02:36 - Source: WFOX
Eight people killed in Florida shooting

Story highlights

Mother, her six children shot and killed inside residence in Bell, Florida

Shooter calls 911, then kills self after a deputy arrives

Sheriff identifies killer as 51-year-old Don Spirit

Don Spirit had spent time in prison, was released in 2006

(CNN) —  

A man who killed his daughter, six grandchildren and then himself in a shooting in north-central Florida was a convicted felon and wasn’t allowed to possess the gun he used, police said Friday.

Don Spirit, 51, killed his daughter, Sarah Spirit, 28, and her three sons and three daughters – ages 3 months to 11 years – at his home in Bell on Thursday afternoon before killing himself, Gilchrist County sheriff’s officials said.

Investigators didn’t yet know any motive for the murder-suicide, Sheriff Robert Schultz said Friday. The massacre came more than a decade after, according to media reports, Don Spirit was convicted of a felony in the fatal shooting of his son in a hunting accident.

The shootings occurred only about an hour after some of the children returned home from Bell Elementary School, school district Superintendent Rob Rankin told reporters Friday.

Four of Sarah Spirit’s children – in grades K, 2, 3 and 5 – attended the school of about 540 children. Students struggled with news of their classmates’ deaths on Friday, Rankin said.

Don Spirit's mug shot from 2001
Florida Dept of Corrections
Don Spirit's mug shot from 2001

“It really hurt me this morning to be on our campus and seeing kids feeling the way they did this morning,” Rankin said. ” … It’s devastating to our schools, but we’re going to be strong through this.”

A prayer vigil has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the school, the sheriff’s office webpage said.

Thursday’s killings

Schultz said a deputy went to the home after Don Spirit called 911 around 4 p.m. After the deputy arrived, Spirit killed himself.

The deputy found the bodies of Sarah Spirit and the children inside the home. Police said they believe Spirit shot more than one person in the home, but declined to say whether all of the victims had been shot.

Deputies had previously responded to calls from the home on numerous occasions, officials said. Spirit had a criminal history, Schultz said Thursday, without elaborating.

Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jeff Manning said Friday that he didn’t believe any of the calls were related to domestic violence.

The sheriff said the news would devastate the county, which has about 17,000 residents. “We’re all family here,” he said.

Florida community reels after mom kills son, daughter, self

Criminal record

Don Spirit, as a convicted felon, was not allowed to have a gun, Manning said Friday. The sheriff’s office hasn’t said how Spirit obtained a gun or what kind of firearm he used.

In 2003, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Spirit was sentenced to three years in prison after he accidentally killed his son Kyle in a hunting accident two years prior. Spirit was charged in Osecola County with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and pleaded guilty, the newspaper reported at the time.

That charge is a second-degree felony. Florida criminal records show Spirit was released from prison in February 2006.

Court records show Spirit also was convicted in 1996 of possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, a third-degree felony.

Schultz declined to identify the father of the children, or whether all of the children had the same father. He said no one in the house survived Spirit’s rampage.

Bell is about 30 miles west of Gainesville.

CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.