The Tragedy in Bell

It is not unusual for our attention to be riveted by some psychopath that shoots and kills several others and then turns the weapon on himself. Such events typically earn the spotlight in national news. The incidence of such evil is becoming all too frequent, but it is usually reported from some place that is remote to us in both time and distance. For those of us who live in north Florida it happened last week, virtually in our own backyard.

Bell is a small hamlet in the northern part of Gilchrist County. With an approximate population of 350 it is more like a large extended family than a town. The community is still reeling from the tragedy last week of seven murders and a suicide. Those who died were not strangers.

On September 18, 2014, Don Spirit decided to kill his six grandchildren and his daughter Sarah who were living with him. Don is a convicted felon and Sarah had been on probation. The children’s welfare had been investigated on several occasions because of reports of drug use and neglect in the home. Florida’s Department of Children and Family services had conducted an investigation as recently as September 1, 2014, and the family had its share of visits from law enforcement. In short, it was a dysfunctional family.

Predictably, the blame game has already begun. Law enforcement and DCF are taking the brunt of the accusations. In the midst of emotion we fail to consider this family is but one of many at risk. State and county employees must make daily judgment calls in numerous situations as to how to use limited resources to serve these families. There is no way they can always be right.

The sad truth is all the resources in the state of Florida combined cannot predict the actions of a madman. Florida does not have its own private psychic hotline. Clearly there was trouble in the home, but there was now way to predict Don Spirit’s frustrations would boil over that Thursday.

When Cain contemplated killing his brother Abel, God told him “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it,” Genesis 4:7. Don Spirit is the one responsible for this tragedy. He is the one who failed to maintain his self-control, no one else.

We also wonder why? We wonder where is the sense in all of this? Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Evil like this is profoundly so because it makes no sense, it defies explanation and understanding.

But explanations would be sorry comfort in the face of such loss. I am praying for those in Bell, and take comfort from the words of the apostle Paul that we do not “grieve as do the rest who have no hope,” First Thessalonians 4:13.


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