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Cycle of Addiction, Abuse, Death: Mother, Children Murders and Grandfather’s Abuse and Suicide

As Florida child advocates and children’s rights attorneys grapple with the wrongful death, personal injury, and physical and sexual abuse suffered by the state’s at-risk and foster children, news from North Florida point to the cycle of mistreatment and abuse families suffer. The murder / suicide of a mother and her six children at the hands of her abusive father point to the horrors of the cycles of poverty, drug addiction and physical abuse.

Don Spirit apparently killed his daughter, Sarah, 28, and her six young children, before killing himself last week in the small North Florida town of Bell. Ms. Spirit’s fears were not unknown to local authorities. Several times she had reached out to police and agencies, even incurring threats of harm from her father for doing so.

Their lives spent together in what the New York Times called “a cycle of extreme poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence” came to an end this month. In death, they were released from the grips of repeated arrests for drugs and violence, the yoke of debt and drug addiction.

But the cycle lives on for countless other families caught in the same maelstrom.

Even the Florida Department of Children and Families, whose public examination and media investigations of late have pointed to an agency struggling to draft an effective plan to protect society’s most vulnerable citizens and at-risk youth, apparently knew about the horrors this family faced. A Miami Herald series revealed that almost 500 children died, even though they were known to be at risk by DCF.

According to the Times and court records, DCF social workers alerted parole officers about their concerns in the Spirit household. One alert came as recently as last month.

Amid the national concerns about domestic abuse and spousal violence, this episode points to another tragic reality. It’s not uncommon for parents to abuse their children, even with parent and child are adults.

It’s critical that authorities with the local police and sheriff’s office, as well as the Florida Department of Children and Families, investigate the sad saga of the Spirit family. Their history reveals abuse and drug use were nothing new and that violence apparently was common. Don Spirit several years ago served time in prison for possession of a firearm – a weapon used when he accidentally shot and killed his son during a hunting outing.

DCF said Friday that its Critical Incident Rapid Response Team “would assess the agency’s ‘interactions and interventions’ with the family before the killings,” according to the Times.

For the Spirit family, this is too little, too late.

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