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Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past

Don Spirit, a Florida grandfather who fatally shot his daughter Sarah Lorraine Spirit and six grandchildren before killing himself, had a long history of domestic violence — at one point pushing his pregnant daughter against a refrigerator and assaulting and threatening his former wife, according to court records.

A family member described a tumultuous, sometimes violent father-daughter relationship — fighting one day and caring for each other the next — and said the 51-year-old man was particularly on edge before Thursday’s night shooting.

He killed Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28, and her six children who ranged in age from 3 months to 11 years, at his home in Bell, Fla. He turned the gun on himself soon after Gilchrist County sheriff’s deputies arrived. He too died.

The children were identified as Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, who was born in June.

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The mother and her six children were living with Don Spirit at the time of the killing, said Katie Stewart, an aunt of Sarah Lorraine Spirit’s three youngest children.

Stewart, 17, said she had also been living at the house. but moved out about a week ago because of a variety of factors — particularly Don Spirit’s escalating anger.

“He was just yelling and cussing too much,” she said.

Father and daughter appeared to be entwined in a disturbing cycle of domestic violence, according to Stewart’s description.

“It was like love, hate. One day he didn’t want nothing to do with her and the kids, and then … out of nowhere he would bring food and groceries,” Stewart said.

Although he had been arrested for assaulting her in the past, Sarah Lorraine Spirit said she loved her father and even trusted him to take care of her children on occasion, Stewart said.

“This was just crazy,” she said of the shooting. “I don’t really see him doing that for no reason.”

Stewart said she had seen him use synthetic marijuana. Also, she said he was on medication for what she believed was bipolar disorder. “He was taking medicine, but a couple of days ago, before this happened, he said he was going to quit taking his medicine because it wasn’t helping him,” Stewart said.

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According to Gilchrist County court records, Don Spirit had been in and out of jail. He pleaded guilty in 2003 to a weapons possession charge after he shot and killed his 8-year-old son in a hunting accident two years earlier. He served three years before being released from prison in 2006.

Before the accident, Spirit had had numerous run-ins with the law, with convictions dating to 1996, when he pleaded guilty to felony drug possession for marijuana. He also pleaded no contest in 1995 to child abuse, including depriving a child of food and shelter, according to court records from Hillsborough County, Fla.

He had a history of assaulting his former wife, Christine Jeffers, throughout their 22-year marriage, according to court documents. The couple divorced in 2005. During one of the last assaults in 2002, he broke the windows in her vehicle with a sledge hammer and threatened to kill her.

She opted not to prosecute him, the report stated. Instead, he admitted himself for a mental health examination.

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In 2008, Don Spirit served jail time for aggravated assault against his daughter, who was pregnant at the time.

But Sarah Lorraine Spirit ended up not testifying against him, dropped a court domestic-violence protection order and wrote a letter on his behalf.

“I love my father, he is the only family I have and he is a big part of mine and my [children’s] life. My father is a good person. He just has a lot of emotional problems,” she wrote. “Since my brother died my dad hasn’t been [emotionally] or mentally stable, he has a lot of problems but he would never hurt somebody intentionally.”

cindy.carcamo

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@latimes.com

christine.mai-duc

@latimes.com

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