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DCF Alerted Two Weeks Before Fatal Bell Murder Suicide

Child advocates and children’s rights attorneys who protect at-risk kids and families from personal injury, wrongful death and physical and sexual abuse learned through the media the horrors that went on in the home of Don Spirit in Bell, Florida. Apparently the Spirit family and the Florida Department of Children and Families were familiar with one another, too.

Child welfare investigators had visited the family’s home in North Florida just outside Gainesville earlier this month, according to news reports. What DCF personnel found was a continuation of the life Mr. Spirit, his daughter, Sarah, and her six children had lived for years.

The grandfather, who had served jail time and had been reported for physical abuse, was there with Sarah, who also served time for various criminal offenses, including drug use. They suffered extreme poverty with little hope.

Then, last week, Mr. Spirit erupted in a violent outburst, killing Ms. Spirit, all her children, and then himself in a horrific episode that has child advocates and children’s rights attorneys puzzled as to what went wrong.

The case becomes another in a long list of children – almost 500 known to date – whom the DCF had been in touch with or aware of, but who nonetheless died or were killed.

State legislators passed new laws this past session in hopes of bolstering the DCF’s ability to protect kids. The news media has been relentless in covering these cases and shining a light on issues in need of addressing.

Yet, here’s another family destroyed – and questions left unanswered.

DCF dispatched a Rapid Response Team to Bell to try to determine what went wrong. Child advocates and children’s rights attorneys who fight to protect kids from personal injury and wrongful death can only hope officials learn what – if any – gaps in coverage occurred and how they can be filled before any future disasters strike.

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