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By on August 15th, 2014 | Last updated: August 15, 2014 at 7:47 am

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Bell Residents Express Sadness, Shock in Wake of Shooting

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm

 

On Friday morning, Bell locals woke up to a day of uncertainty and questions surrounding the tragic murders of six children and their mother.

Don Spirit, 51, killed his daughter, six grandchildren and himself on Thursday around 4 p.m. The small town, located in Gilchrist County, reacted with sadness and shock the following day.

While administrators at Bell Elementary School, which many of the deceased children attended, were not available to comment, neighboring Trenton Elementary School went on with what seemed to be “just a pretty normal day,” according to the principal, Lynette Langford.

“This morning I didn’t know if we may have more parents that were walking in students,” Langford said, “but it seemed to be our normal amount of car-riders.”

Shannon Hill’s daughter attends Bell Elementary in the same grade as one of the deceased children, Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11.  Hill, a school bus driver for Gilchrist County, spent the day with her daughter to talk about the shooting.

“We heard on the news,” Hill said, “and we could see that it was Kaleb, but she wasn’t sure if it was the Kaleb that she knew until she got here (Bell Elementary).”

Hill teared up as she spoke about reminiscing with her daughter about times spent playing with Kaleb. Her daughter did not know for sure if it was the same Kaleb she knew until she got to school on Friday. She was upset to hear the news.

“It’s real hard,” Hill said.

David Allen lives less than two miles away from the property where the family members were found. Allen moved to Bell about eight months ago but did not know the family personally.

“Living where I do on ten acres, I hear gunshots daily but that is something that’s common here in this community,” Allen said.

He heard the shots fired Thursday at around ten minutes to 4 p.m., he said; that caught his attention.

“Any type of repeated gunfire catches my attention,” Allen said. “I thought it was fire crackers or a small-caliber weapon. I went inside and watched television after that.”

John Wilkorson, a lifelong Bell resident, said he had never heard of anything like this before. Wilkorson did not know the family personally.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, 62 years, and never anything such as this,” Wilkorson said.

Gov. Rick Scott spoke in response to the shooting at the Gilchrist County Emergency Operations Center on Friday around 1 p.m. Scott said his prayers are with the families of the victims and the community of Bell.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Scott said. “But they have been to the schools. They have been talking to the other students. We are going to do anything we can. We are going to have to help this community get back on its feet.”

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Sept. 19, 2014: Afternoon News in 90

By and on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Melissa Walpole produced this update. 

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Bell Shooter Don Spirit: An Extensive Criminal History

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Before Don Spirit, 51, committed a murder-suicide that claimed the lives of his daughter Sarah Spirit and her six children, he had an extensive criminal record that included multiple felony and misdemeanor charges from multiple Florida Counties.

The scene at Spirit’s home near NW 30th St. and NW 39th Terrace in Bell, Fla. was reported by Spirit via a 911 call he made at about 4 p.m. on Thursday Sept. 18.

According to the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office, Spirit shot his daughter Sarah Spirit, 28, and her six children: Alanna Stewart, 3 months, Brandon Stewart, 4, Destiny Stewart, 5, Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8, Kylie Kuhlmann, 9, and Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11.

Court records from Pinellas, Osceola, Hillsborough and Gilchrist counties show a long list of misdemeanors and felonies attributed to Don Spirit. His minor offenses include possession of marijuana, driving with an expired registration and driving without a valid driver’s license.

But the list continues.

In 1994, Spirit was arrested in Hillsborough County for driving without a license and his involvement in an accident that resulted in a death, according to public records obtained via the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County.

Also in Hillsborough, Spirit was found guilty of battery, a class one misdemeanor, in 1992. In 1995, Spirit was found guilty of depriving a child of food and shelter.

In Pinellas County, Spirit was found liable in six non-criminal cases involving traffic violations such as a driver possessing an open container and driving with a suspended license, according to the County’s Clerk of Court’s public records. Pinellas County records showed Spirit was also convicted for habitually driving with a revoked license, a felony offense.

Spirit spent three years in jail because of a hunting accident in 2001 that left Spirit’s son Kyle, then 8-years-old, dead according to the Orlando Sentinel. Since Spirit was already categorized as a felon from a previous Hillsborough County case, he was found guilty of felony possession of a firearm and served three years in jail from 2003 to 2006.

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Gov. Scott Speaks in Response to Bell Shooting

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 4:17 pm

UPDATE, Sept. 19:  Gov. Rick Scott spoke in response to the Bell shooting today around 1 p.m. at the Gilchrist County Emergency Operations Center.

“You just don’t know what goes through the suspect’s mind when this happens,” he said.

Gov. Rick Scott spoke in response to the Bell shootings on Friday. He said his prayers are with the family members and the community.

Katie Campbell / WUFT News

Gov. Rick Scott spoke in response to the Bell shootings on Friday. He said his prayers are with the family members and the community.

Scott commended the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office. “The sheriff has said he has the resources he needs,” Scott said, “but right now what we have to do is pray for this family.”

Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Shultz appeared alongside Scott. “We have a motto for the sheriffs office,” Schultz said. “We are one team, one mission. And our mission today is to make sure that our children and the victims’ families are taken care of.”

According the 2012 U.S. Census, the town of Bell has a population of about 450. In a press conference Thursday, Shultz expressed how hard this tragedy would be on such a small community.

“Everybody knows everybody,” Scott said. “But they have been to the schools. They have been talking to the other students. We are going to do anything we can. We are going to have to help this community get back on its feet.”

An earlier version of this post ran under the headline “Gilchrist Sheriff Confirms 8 Dead in Bell Shooting, Including 6 Children.”

ORIGINAL POST, Sept. 18: Sheriff Shultz has confirmed the names of the victims in the Bell shooting. Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28, Alanna Stewart, 3 months, Brandon Stewart, 4, Destiny Stewart, 5, Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8, Kylie Kuhlmann, 9, and Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11, were shot and killed by the children’s grandfather Don Charles Spirit.

“Whoever hears the sounds of my voice, keep this community in their prayers,” Shultz said. “Tomorrow is going to be a hard day for a lot of children in Gilchrist County. We will get past this, but tomorrow is going to be a hard day.”

Don Spirit, Sarah Spirit’s father, committed suicide after contacting authorities.

UPDATE: Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28, was the mother of all six children: Alanna Stewart, 3 months; Brandon Stewart, 4; ; Destiny Stewart, 5; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; and Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11.

UPDATE: Shultz is not prepared to discuss the firearm at this time.

“We may never know” what caused Spirit to commit these crimes.

He said all of the victims were on the property, but he is not able to say if they were all in the same part of the residence at the time of the shootings.

UPDATE: The victims have been identified.

UPDATE: The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office will hold another press conference at 9:45 p.m. WUFT News reporters are on the scene. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz confirmed Don Charles Spirit shot and killed his daughter and her six children on Thursday in the town of Bell.

The names of the victims were not confirmed; however, the children’s ages range from 3 months to 10. The shooting occurred near NW 30th St. and NW 39th Terrace. The shooter made the initial 911 call and gave enough information to “alarm” authorities.

Upon responding to the call, Gilchrist officers discovered “the shooting suspect was deceased.” The victims were also dead.

Shultz said the shooter did have a criminal record, and authorities had been called to the residence on several occasions before the shooting, though none of these past incidents reflected violence at this level.

Bell has a population of about 450, according the 2012 U.S. Census.

UPDATE:  Shultz confirmed Don Charles Spirit, 51, was the shooter. Spirit shot himself after killing his daughter and her six children.

Don Charles Spirit, 51, shot and killed his daughter and her six children. He then committed suicide.

Courtesy of Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office

Don Charles Spirit, 51, shot and killed his daughter and her six children. He then committed suicide.

UPDATE: Shultz confirmed the shooter made reference to harming himself and others when he made the initial 911 call.

Don Spirit has been confirmed as the shooter.

UPDATE: Eight are dead in the town of Bell, including seven victims and the shooter.

The shooting occurred near NW 30th Street and NW 39th Terrace.

UPDATE: “This is not about the gentleman who did this,” Shultz said. “This is about the children.”

Shultz is not prepared to speak about the firearms found at the residence at this time.

UPDATE: Updates are being reported by Robert Schultz, the sheriff of Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office.

“What can you say?” he said. “This community will come together… We’ll work through this.”

UPDATE: The shooter did have a criminal history.

UPDATE: The sheriff confirmed authorities have been called out to the residence in the past. The shooter committed suicide after shooting the victims and making contact with first responders.

UPDATE: A grandfather shot his daughter and grandchildren, ages 3 months to 10.

UPDATE: The call came in around 4 p.m. today.

UPDATE: The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a shooting at a private residence. Eight victims were found, including six children.

ORIGINAL POST: The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed it will be holding a press conference beginning at 8 p.m. This is a developing story.

WUFT News will be updating as information comes in.

 WUFT reporters Virginia Hamrick and Stephanie Matarazzo reported from the press conference. Erica A. Hernandez contributed to this report.

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In the News: White House Makes Statement on Domestic Violence, Ocala Police Get New Body Cameras, Red Tide off Gulf May Effect Economy and Wildlife, JetBlue Plane Makes Emergency Landing, Skeletons Found Holding Hands 700 Later

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm
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Sept. 19, 2014: Morning News In 90

By and on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Renee Beninate produced this update.

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Gov. Scott to Visit Bell This Afternoon

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will visit Bell, Fla. Today in the wake of a shooting that left six children and two adults dead on Thursday Sept. 18.

“Today around 1 p.m. Gov. Scott will be here,” Gilchrist Sheriff Robert Schultz said. “He’s been a very good source for me. He wants to check on how we’re doing here.”

Schultz, Superintendent Rob Rankin and Lt. Jeff Manning spoke at a press conference from Bell at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Rankin provided updates from Bell Elementary School, where some of the victims were students.

“It was a tough, tough morning in Bell Elementary School,” said Rob Rankin, Gilchrist County Superintendent. “These students were loved by their classmates, teachers and staff at Bell Elementary School.”

Rankin said about 20-30 area counselors were brought in to help the nearly 540 students as well as staff members of Bell Elementary.

“Everybody grieves different. Trying to work with each one,” Rankin said. “It really hurt this morning  to be on our campus and see the kids feel the way they did.”

Schultz said officers were called to the home where the six children and their mother Sarah Spirit were shot on multiple occasions. He said none of the calls were related to domestic violence.

Schultz added no motive was relayed to any officer even in the shooter’s 911 call.

“Maybe that will come out in the investigation and that’s why we’re going to take our time with this,” Schultz said.

He said he couldn’t identify the father of the children and that more information will be available soon.

According to Schultz, the suicide shooter, Don Spirit, was not a legal gun owner. Schultz added this is an ongoing investigation but the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s office believes the shooting was carried out by a lone gunman.

Check back for updates as this story continues to develop.

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Apple Fanatics Line Up For New iPhone Release

By on September 19th, 2014 | Last updated: September 19, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Apple fanatics in Gainesville couldn’t wait to get their hands on the new iPhone.

Lines began to form outside of some retail stores as early as Thursday, with hopes of purchasing an iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the newest editions to the line of the widely popular smartphone.

The smartphones went on sale today in stores such as BestBuy and AT&T.

People began lining up as early as Thursday afternoon outside of some retail stores in Gainesville, waiting on the release of the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, the latest products by Apple.

Qianwen Zhang / WUFT News

People began lining up as early as Thursday afternoon outside of some retail stores in Gainesville, waiting on the release of the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, the latest products by Apple.

Mark Anthony Ross was first in the line at the door of AT&T. He had been waiting since 1 p.m. yesterday to get an iPhone 6 Plus, which he intends to purchase because of the new camera and longer talk time.

“I heard there will not be so many 6 Plus [models] today, so I came early,” Ross said.

According to Krystal Williams, assistant manager of AT&T in Gainesville, they have been preparing for the sale for a week. She said they will start off with about 150 iPhone 6 and more than 50 iPhone 6 Plus in store, and anticipates selling them all by noon.

Having worked in AT&T for about three years, Williams has seen the release of the iPhone 4 and newer editions.

“I feel this one is the biggest so far,” Williams said.

Michael Bauer arrived at Best Buy at 4:45 a.m. today, neglecting to pre-order the phone a head of time. He owned an iPhone 5 for two years, and said he’s making the purchase to keep up with the latest model.

Selfless individuals, like Kraig Gregory, waited in line over 13 hours for someone other than themselves. Gregory, 43, was purchasing a 6 Plus for his wife.

“I feel great,” Gregory said after his purchase. “I feel I did something great for my wife.”

Unlike those eager to get the newest thing from Apple immediately, some have chosen to wait.

Shibei Ding, a graduate student at the University of Florida, currently owns a Samsung Galaxy S4. She decided to wait for a while before paying at least $199.

“I almost checked out online the other day,” Ding said, “But I want to touch the models of both iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus first before I decide which one I really want.”

Ding said her cousin in China has asked her to get one of the new models for him when she goes back to China.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will not be sold in Mainland China on Sept. 19.

 

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Man Arrested In Connection To Marion County Drive-By Shootings

By on September 18th, 2014 | Last updated: September 18, 2014 at 9:39 pm

One man has been arrested in connection to the string of drive-by shootings that occurred last week in Marion County.

Cedric Sherrod Smith, Jr., who is believed to be involved with one of the four drive-by shootings that occurred in Marion County, Fla., last week.

Ocala Police Department / WUFT News

Cedric Sherrod Smith, Jr., who is believed to be involved with one of the four drive-by shootings that occurred in Marion County, Fla., last week.

Cedric Sherrod Smith was taken into custody earlier today for one charge of Shooting into an Occupied Dwelling, according to an Ocala Police Department press-release. Smith is believed to have been involved with one of the two shootings that occurred on Sept. 10 at 1910 NW 26 Ave. No one was injured in either incident.

Detective Mike Hilton, with OPD, “was able to develop probable cause for Cedric Sherrod Smith” through his investigation, according to the press-release. Smith was booked into Marion County Jail with a $20,000 bond.

Four shootings occurred between Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. While no injuries were reported at either of the shootings at 1910 NW 2nd Ave., a man and two children were injured in separate drive-by incidents.

Investigations into the other shootings continue.

“At this point in our investigation into this string of shootings we are still focused on trying to locate the person responsible for shooting two innocent children,” said OPD Supervisor of Major Crimes Investigation Sgt. Lisa Bienko.

“We encourage anyone within our community with information about these cases to please come forward.”

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Grace Marketplace Set To Close Pavilion and Chapel

By on September 18th, 2014 | Last updated: September 18, 2014 at 6:27 pm

A local homeless shelter will no longer offer two of its staple services.

On Oct. 3, Grace Marketplace, a “one-stop” shelter for the homeless, is closing its outdoor pavilion and chapel.

Inside of the chapel at Grace Marketplace, which is set to close on Oct. 1

Kali Kavouklis / WUFT News

Inside of the chapel at Grace Marketplace, which is set to close on Oct. 1

Jon DeCarmine, director of operations at Grace Marketplace, said that the shelter is experiencing a monthly shortfall of $20,000, with the cost of utilities being the largest expense. The closing of the two buildings will save the shelter up to $3,000 a month.

DeCarmine said the pavilion, which currently houses 50 of the individuals at the shelter, was never meant to be permanent.

The marketplace plans to open its first indoor dorm on the same day as the closings. The dorm will hold 10 women and 10 men.

“Anyone who is interested in coming inside we’ll make space for,” DeCarmine said.

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