Florida granddad Don Spirit who killed family had also fatally shot son years before

Jason Sickles
Investigators leave the scene Thursday of an eight-person murder-suicide in rural Florida. (AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun, Matt Stamey)

The Florida man who police say gunned down his daughter and six grandchildren Thursday had been to prison for fatally shooting his young son during a hunting trip 13 years ago, according to court records.

An undated photo of Don Spirit provided by the Gilchrist Co. Sheriff's Department. (AP)

Don Charles Spirit, 51, phoned the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Department around 4 p.m. Thursday and indicated that he might harm himself and others.

“When he called 911, he said enough to alarm us to get someone there, and we needed to get there in a hurry,” Sheriff Robert Schultz said.

But the father and grandfather shot himself as officers approached his home. Deputies then discovered the bodies of Spirit's daughter and her six children at the small, rural house near Bell, about 38 miles northwest of Gainesville in north central Florida.

Sheriff Schultz identified the victims as Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28; Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, who was born in June.

“Them were nice little kids — they’d laugh and cut up going down the road going to school and coming back,” neighbor Betty Dyer told Yahoo News. “People’s minds are just sick, I guess.”

Sarah Spirit (Facebook)

Sheriff Schultz said investigators had found no immediate motive for the massacre. He said his officers had answered calls at the home before, “but nothing to this extent.”

The Facebook account of Christine Jeffers, Sarah's mother, largely consists of pictures and videos of her grandchildren — at the beach, celebrating birthdays, Hula-Hooping in the backyard. Jeffers and her husband spent most of this summer attending Kaleb's baseball games.

On Friday, Jeffer's friends set up an online account to help her with funeral expenses.

Thank you everyone for your support," Jeffers wrote on her Facebook wall.

Don Spirit was released from a Florida prison in February 2006 after serving three years related to the shooting death of their son, Kyle Spirit.

He had pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon two years after Kyle, 8, was killed during a hunting outing.

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel in 2003, Spirit said he was walking through the woods in November 2001 with Kyle and another son, 11-year-old Josh, when he pointed out rust on the muzzle of his rifle and it accidentally fired, striking Kyle in the head.

Spirit had been convicted of felony marijuana possession in 1998, losing his right to own a firearm, but had never applied to restore that right.

Kyle Spirit, 8, was killed while hunting with his father. (Facebook)

Spirit, who moved his family from Tampa to Bell after his son’s death, told a reporter that he took the plea deal because he could not bear the emotional toll of a trial.

“There’s nothing I can do,” Spirit, carrying a crumpled tissue, told the Orlando Sentinel at the time.

The drug conviction was not Spirit’s first encounter with the law. According to public records, in the early 1990s, he was found guilty of leaving the scene of a serious accident, depriving a child of food or shelter, and battery. Specific details on those charges were not immediately available.

Once he was released from prison in 2006, public records show that Spirit was awarded a Florida hunting license in 2007 and 2011.

Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

[This story was updated at 12:20 p.m. ET on Friday.]