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DCF had recent warnings about family murdered in Bell killing spree

The Spirit family that child welfare investigators confronted two weeks ago presented a volatile mix: two drug-abusing adults, six small children and a history of violence. It exploded Thursday when Don Charles Spirit killed his daughter and six grandchildren one by one.

The killing spree in tiny Bell, Florida, is believed to be the largest loss of life in a single family with a child welfare history ever in Florida. And records show authorities knew there were risks.

On Sept. 1, Florida child protection investigators received a report on the youngsters over the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline. They were told that the children of Sarah Spirit, 28, were living with drug abusers. During the investigation that followed, Spirit told the agency she had just been released from jail after violating probation by testing positive for illegal substances. At the time, she was living with her father, a 51-year-old man with a record of violence who had once gone to prison for fatally shooting his son in a hunting accident.

The probe of the hotline report was still open last week when Spirit shot his daughter and her six children — ages 11 years to 2 months — before turning a gun on himself as Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies arrived. A DCF report offered no details on its handling of the two-week-old hotline call. More from Carol Marbin Miller and Audra Burch here.