911 call from Bell grandfather: 'They're all dead'

Florida Department of Children and Families

By Heather Leigh - Reporter, Adrienne Moore

BELL, Fla. -

With an edgy yet calm voice, Donald Spirit told a 911 dispatcher in Gilchrist County last Thursday afternoon that he had just killed his six grandchildren, including a baby, and would wait until authorities arrived before going to his back porch and killing himself.

The Sheriff's Office on Tuesday made public that phone call.

"I just shot my daughter and shot all my grandkids and I'll be sitting on my step, so when you get here I'm going to shoot myself," Spirit calmly told the 911 operator. "Every one of them are dead."

"What kind of gun do you have?" the dispatcher asked.

"Doesn't matter what kind of gun I have, they're all dead," Spirit said. "When you get here I'll shoot myself and you'll figure out what kind of gun it is."

When deputies arrived on scene, they had a brief verbal exchange with Spirit before he shot himself, according to the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office.

A preliminary autopsy showed all the victims were killed with a .45-caliber handgun, which was recovered from the scene.

LISTEN: Don Spirit's 911 call (Note: graphic content, offensive language)
READ: Transcript of Don Spirit's 911 call

All of the children were found inside the home. Spirit's daughter was found outside.

"As of this time, no clear or definitive motive can be determined," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement released Tuesday morning.

Spirit was a convicted felon, and federal, state and local law enforcement authorities are investigating how he may have obtained the firearm.

In a private ceremony Monday, the family gathered at Wayfair Cemetery, just north of Bell, to bury 28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit and her six children; Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and 2½-month-old Alanna Stewart.

Flowers were placed on the children's graves. A neighbor on the same street fought back tears as she told News4Jax she's devastated by the news, and used to see the kids walking home from school.

"This tragic and devastating event may never be fully explained. We would continue to ask everyone to keep the victims' family, friends, classmates and the community of Bell, Florida, in their thoughts and prayers," the statement read.

Documents showed that the Florida Department of Children and Families had offered services to Sarah Spirit at least three times in the last few years.

DOCUMENT: DCF initial incident report on Spirit family homicides

State child welfare officials said Monday most recently investigated after someone called the Department of Children and Families abuse hotline Sept. 1 saying that adults were using drugs in front of the children.

DCF said Sarah Spirit told investigators she had tested positive for drugs and was arrested for violating probation. When she was released, Spirit and the children went to live with her father.

A police report from 2008 also showed that Sarah Spirit had reported being beaten by her father when she was 36 weeks pregnant.

Reports from DCF also documented an incident in 2013 when Don Spirit hit one of his grandchildren with a belt, causing bruising.

DCF officials told News4Jax they are working to put together a timeline of investigations at the family home and documents it can release on the incidents. The Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office was also working on a list of calls for service at that address, but it was not ready by Tuesday afternoon.

Roy Miller, president of The Children's Campaign, said the state has failed too many times over the years in gruesome child abuse deaths.

"We need systemic change to how we do investigations," said Miller, whose group unsuccessfully pushed the Legislature this year to transfer investigations to local sheriff departments on a voluntary basis. Currently, sheriff's agencies handle child abuse investigations in only six of Florida's 67 counties.

"Had a sheriff's investigator showed up ... we believe the sheriff's department would have been better informed and possibly more aggressive."

DCF's regional managing director Dennis Miles said Tuesday that there appeared to be several red flags but that the agency needs to look deeper at what happened.

After the slayings, a team of staffers was sent to investigate, per state protocol.

Miles said the team will look at previous interactions with the family, and "find out what went right, what went wrong and kind of give us some answers. Right now we don't have answers.

Asked Tuesday if he was satisfied with how DCF handled the case, Gov. Rick Scott said: "Right now we ought to be praying for the family and we ought to be doing all we can for the survivors in that community, but do exactly what we're doing … a thorough investigation to understand what happened because we don't ever want this to happen in our state again."

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