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DCF releases new records in Bell, Florida slaughter

Kathleen McGrory, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Thursday, October 2, 2014 2:59pm

from the Miami Herald's Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch:

The calls to Florida's abuse hotline about the peculiar parenting methods of Sarah Lorraine Spirit began in 2008, and continued unabated until Spirit's entire family was slaughtered Sept. 18.

The 18 investigations included virtually every type of abuse or neglect in the agency's handbook: beatings, burnings, medical neglect, poor supervision, drug abuse, abandonment and domestic battery among them.

The details were, at times, outlandish: Spirit treated a deep cut on her son's foot with bleach, then wrapped the wound in tissue and duct tape. She ignored repeated pleas from a school nurse to take him to a doctor. The children frequently missed school owing to relentless head lice. One little girl nearly lost her teeth to rot. The children stole food because they were hungry.

Spirit insisted the family had steak for dinner. Her children said they ate cereal and Ramen noodles while the adults dined on the meat. Spirit's father, Don Spirit, beat the children with a belt for jumping on a couch.

The Department of Children & Families offered Spirit services to improve her parenting. Mostly, she refused, though once, in 2013, Spirit agreed to accept help, only to be dropped from the program as "unsuccessful."

The agency took her children from her around 2007, then gave them back. Caseworkers with a private child welfare agency threatened to take legal action against her if she continued to harm her children, but the threat proved hollow, and several more abuse reports followed.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll released a detailed post mortem on the killings Wednesday - the first report written by the agency's new Critical Incident Rapid Response Team, created earlier this year by the Florida Legislature. DCF also released hundreds of pages of detailed records on the family to the Miami Herald in response to a public records request.

The records trace the family's history with the state since 2006.

Read more here.