30 Sep 2014

Bell Mass Shooting Stirs Legislature

In Wake Of Bell Mass Shooting, Could Fla. Be Considering Another DCF
Legislative Fix


State child welfare officials are looking into what went wrong in their
handling of an investigation of a Florida man who shot himself and his
family in North Florida. The Florida Department of Children and Families
say they were actually investigating the man weeks before the mass shooting
in Bell. So, in the wake of the deadly rampage, could lawmakers be
considering another DCF legislative fix?

About a week ago, Don Spirit shot his 28-year-old daughter Sarah and her
six kids ranging in age from about three months old baby to 11-years-old.

After calling 911 and warning the operator he would commit suicide when
Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene, Don Spirit
followed through and shot himself at his Bell home.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Spirit, heard in the recently released 911 call. “I just
shot my daughter and shot all my grandkids, and I’ll be sitting on my step,
and when you get here, I’m going to shoot myself.”

“First deputy on the scene made contact with the subject who alter
committed suicide. Deputies searched the residence which revealed multiple
victims with apparent gunshot wounds inside the residence,” confirmed
Sheriff Robert Schultz, following the incident.

The day after the shooting, Governor Rick Scott visited the north Florida
town. And, speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, he
said he’s still in contact with authorities in Bell.

“I spoke to the Sheriff, the superintendent, and the principal yesterday to
see if there’s anything they needed from the state,” said Scott. “Both the
superintendent and the principal said there’s been a lot of grievance
counselors that have come to the school because those children were going
to an elementary school there and it happened after they came back from
school that day.”

As details continue to unfold, it’s been discovered that two weeks before
the shooting, someone had called the Florida Department of Children and
Families’ child abuse hotline to complain that adults in the home were
using drugs in front of the kids—a claim that state child welfare officials
say they had been investigating.

In addition, officials say both Don Spirit and his daughter were the focus
of several past abuse and neglect investigations.

Now, Governor Rick Scott says he has the agency looking into it.

“Right now, we ought to be praying for the family. We ought to be doing
everything we can for all the survivors in the community. But, then do
exactly what we’re doing and do a thorough investigation to understand what
happened because we don’t want this to happen in our state again,” he

And, Stuart Republican Representative Gayle Harrell agrees. She was in
charge of this year’s effort in the House to overhaul DCF, after a series
of investigative Miami Herald reports outlined a number of child-abuse
related deaths that occurred under the agency’s supervision.

The massive overhaul includes hiring more child protective investigators
and putting together a child death’s website.  It also created a team to
conduct an investigation following any child death to determine the root
cause of the child abuse death and report their findings.

“A good example of the change that has happened is we have this Rapid
Response Team out there doing the investigation, and so we should have
within in the next week or so as to what exactly went on and what went
wrong. It will help us make decisions and DCF make decision as to where to
go from here,” said Harrell.

Still, she says moving forward, she expects there will be a lot hearings
when the legislature next convenes, starting with committee hearings in

But, she says for now, she’s taking a wait-and-see approach as to what
shakes out from the DCF probe, especially given the new law reforming the
system just took effect months ago.

“And, if the new law is not going to address that, we need to learn about
that and perhaps take further steps, but let’s see what shakes out of the
investigation. And, also let’s see how the changes in the new law could
have had an impact. I think they will have a significant impact, and it
makes me even more determined as we go down this road of reform in changing
this system and making sure the safety of the child is paramount,” she

In addition to DCF, local authorities are also conducting their own probe.
That includes how Don Spirit had a gun with a felony record.

The elder Spirit had a troubled past, which includes serving time in prison
for accidentally fatally shooting his eight-year-old son in the head during
a hunting trip in 2001.