COLLIER COUNTY — Alex Crain appears a typical teenager, a 14-year-old boy chafing against the rules of the house and the punishments that came with breaking them — the groundings, the computer and cell phone restrictions.
Thomas and Kelly Crain, 40 and 39 respectively, seemed a normal couple, parents of three who struggled to make ends meet in a difficult economy. Things got bad enough that they once considered selling the family’s only gun, a lever-action 30-30 they kept loaded in the master bathroom closet. But they reconsidered.
All accounts suggest that on the morning of Dec. 9, Alex Crain somehow gained access to that rifle, pointed it at his parents, and pulled the trigger twice, slaying both in the home’s master bathroom.
As the teenager sits in a Naples jail cell facing two adult charges of manslaughter, a bundle of investigative reports released Tuesday sheds some light on Alex Crain, his parents and the violence that erupted between them. They suggest a teenager struggling to deal with his parents’ rigorous discipline, which, while not abusive, was “controlling,” according to one brother.
“Alexander was mad about that and told Thomas and Kelly he was sick and tired of them bossing him around and fed up with how they treated him,” Theresa Hollis, a neighbor, said.
The reports, nearly 400 pages released under state public records laws, compile crime scene reports, medical examiner analysis, and interviews with friends, family and neighbors of the Crains. Paired with three psychiatric examinations of Crain, they likely form the basis of prosecutors’ decision to charge the teenager with manslaughter as an adult.
The State Attorney’s Office has a policy of not speaking about ongoing cases, meaning the significance of each document, interview or account with the case as a whole is difficult to determine. Crain has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
That the teenager pulled the trigger has never been disputed by his attorneys and is not disputed in the reports. Most windows and doors were closed inside the house and no signs of forced entry were found. Hollis, the neighbor, said she heard both gunshots and saw only one person exit the house, Crain, who surrendered to deputies after calling 911.
Deputies found the gun, a Marlin 336, on the bathroom floor near the body of Kelly Crain. Both victims were shot once in the upper torso, according to reports, and both were found on their backs on the bathroom floor. Two brass casings lay nearby.
Alex Crain lived alone in the home with his parents, owners of a screen closure business, at 4240 47th Ave. N.E. Two brothers, Jonathan Straight, 19, and Nicholas Straight, 22, lived outside the home.
Jonathan Straight, stationed with the Army at Fort Richard in Arizona, described his brother as a normal kid coping with his parents’ rules. Breaking a rule meant being grounded in the Crain house, Straight said, with no access to electronics including TV or cellphone. The parents were never abusive, and they didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol or drugs, Straight said.
“Both of them, I mean they were, I guess they were scared to lose us and they didn't really know how to—”
“Were they overly strict?” lead Collier sheriff’s detective Andy Henchesmoore interrupted.
“They were controlling,” Straight replied.
Alex Crain struggled with it, Hollis told Detective Raymond Wilkinson. In the year and a half before the shooting, Crain found himself in increasing trouble for lying, stealing and running away, she said. Police brought him back to the house after he sneaked out one night, she said.
His parents responded with steady punishment, she said.
“The only thing they thought of was grounding him. He would stay at home. He was not allowed to go nowhere,” she said.
Alexyss Staron, 18, a friend of Crain’s through church, said Crain was frequently grounded, often for “stupid teenage stuff” such as neglecting to wash the dishes. She said Thomas and Kelly Crain didn’t appear abusive and never cursed at their kids.
“They were strict, I mean, how all parents would be,” she said.
Yet discipline in the family caused upset Crain, she said. Nicholas Straight left the home at 18 due to his parents’ restrictions, she said, and Crain was upset about the way his parents treated his brother.
In an interview with Wilkinson, Nicholas Straight said he didn’t often talk with his father but kept in close touch with his mother through text messaging. He would only say he moved out of the house at 18 because “I needed to.” Asked if Crain had problems with the parents, Straight said he didn’t.
“Not any more than any teenager and their parents have,” he said.
Crain called 911 in April 2008 to report his father was abusing him. He told a deputy that Thomas Crain hit him in the head multiple times after Alex drank a can of soda without permission. He said his father frequently hit Alex’s then-16-year-old brother, as well. A deputy spoke with the parents the same afternoon, tagged the case “legal advice” and closed it 30 minutes after the call.
Jonathan Straight said told Henchesmoore he wasn’t aware of the incident, but he emphasized his parents weren’t abusive.
Friends and family alike told detectives nothing about Crain suggested violence. He was outgoing and "happy-go-lucky," Staron said, even if he kept family matters to himself. She never heard him mention a gun, she said.
One friend, ROTC classmate Jacob Frost, mentioned an irreverent comment made by Crain several weeks before the slayings. Asked why he was always driven home by his mother, Crain responded, “So I can gain her trust and then, um, I can kill her,” Frost told a detective.
Staron mentioned another odd comment made by Crain before the slayings. She said that on a preceding Wednesday, Crain told her he wouldn’t return to Palmetto Ridge due to his family being evicted from their house. They had 24 hours to be out, she said he told her, and they intended to live in Naples with grandparents.
Eviction precedings had never been started against the family, detectives later determined.
Crime scene investigators tested multiple surfaces at the home for fingerprints, including the rifle, a box of ammunition and a knife found in the closet. The reason for the presence of the knife, part of a kitchen set, was not clear.
Reports suggest no one beyond Crain witnessed the slayings. Hollis told detectives she heard two distinctive gunshots as she stood with her dog on the back porch around 8:50 a.m. Moments later she spotted someone exit the house in shorts and a hoodie. Deputies immediately pulled up, ordering Alex Crain to show his hands, she said.
Hollis also recalled another incident a month or two prior in which she heard gunshots from the home. Crain was home alone, she said, and Hollis told his parents what she heard, fearing he was playing with the rifle. Thomas Crain said his son fired bottle rockets.
Around the same time, Thomas Crain offered to sell Hollis the gun, a gift from his father, for $600. Knowing the family needed money, Hollis considered purchasing the firearm, she said. She decided against it.
“I wish we had,” she told Wilkinson.
Crain is scheduled to appear in court June 6 for a status hearing in the case.