Growing up in Maple Shade, N.J., Shawn Christy was so smart that his parents, Karen and Craig, decided to home-school their precocious son, who's now 19.
"When we had Shawn, we didn't want to put him in day care," says Karen, who supported the family with office jobs while Craig used a Christian-based curriculum to educate the adorable blond boy. Karen is sitting at her wooden kitchen table, rolling her own cigarettes—to save money, she says—in their current home in the sleepy Pennsylvania town of McAdoo, three hours west of Manhattan, surrounded by acres of farmland. Shawn was a gentle soul who harbored an innate love of dogs and cats, says Karen. He even brought home injured squirrels and birds, which the family took in and rehabilitated. "Animals can sense people and sense they have good spirits," Karen tells The Daily Beast. "And Shawn has a good spirit." Craig, afflicted with severe Lyme's disease since the 1990s, has spent his days caring for the family pets, doing wildlife rehabilitation, and tending to their son. "If he sees someone in need," Karen says of Craig, "he helps them."
But Shawn and Craig, 47, are accused of being interested in technology as well. On Aug. 18, the day after a federal grand jury in Alaska indicted the pair, agents at the FBI office in Allentown, Pa., arrested the father and son and charged them with making hundreds of harassing, expletive-filled, and threatening phone calls to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's attorney John Tiemessen and employees of his law firm in early August.
The calls were placed after Tiemessen and Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee and potential 2012 presidential candidate, obtained restraining orders against the two men in the last year because of what they said was harassment, including text messages and phone calls to Palin family members and friends. Shawn Christy reportedly admitted in court to having threatened to rape Palin, and sending her numerous emails and gifts. Following their arrest, Craig and Shawn appeared in U.S. district court in Allentown. "There's a level of obsession here that elevates the conduct from merely creepy to truly threatening," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher reportedly said in arguing for the men to be held until they're transported to Anchorage for further court hearings. They face up to two years in jail, U.S. Attorney Retta-Rae Randall tells The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, the arrests have left Karen, 45, reeling. "It is unbelievable, like my whole world has been torn apart," she says, beginning to cry. "It feels like I lost my family. I don't know what I'm going to do."
With her life unraveling around her—including the loss of her office job on Friday—Karen did find a bright spot on Friday when she heard from Craig, who called from the Lehigh County prison in Allentown. "He told me they were OK, that he is near Shawn," she says. "But I don't know if he is lying to me to make me feel better. It's hard after spending every day for the last 20-plus years with someone."
Craig, whose Marlboro-man good looks lend him a certain resemblance to Todd Palin, married Karen, a native of McAdoo, in 1989. The pair settled in Craig's hometown of Maple Shade, and lived a quiet life with no TV or Internet, opting for DVDs of old Westerns or visiting the local library to surf the Web. "Shawn has loved to cook ever since he was a child," she says. As Karen flips through a photo album, she shows me pictures of a tiny Shawn with a squirrel on his back that the family adopted. Although admittedly not churchgoers, the family is Christian, says Karen, "in our own way."
Four years ago, the Christys moved to their tiny, sparse two-bedroom house in McAdoo, the front porch adorned with two singing silver wind chimes. They share the home with a menagerie of rescued pets: a 12-year-old German-shepherd mix, two cats, and three once-injured wild birds nurtured back to health. Surprisingly, Karen says the family has no interest in politics. "We are simple people," she insists. "We love the outdoors, taking walks. We're a family in the whole sense of the word—we do everything together."
One thing she did not do together with Craig and Shawn was place hundreds of harassing phone calls between Aug. 1 and 9 that led to their arrest. In an affidavit dated Aug. 12, FBI Special Agent Jacqueline DeCou details the quite disturbing calls that the father-and-son duo allegedly made to the offices of Tiemessen and his family members. In an Aug. 1 call that Shawn allegedly left Tiemessen, he says: "... are you just a little fucking Semite kike that likes to get a dick up your ass and likes to fuck people over? Well, surprise, for the first time in your life, John, somebody small, some little dick fuck from McAdoo is going to ram it up your fucking ass and take everything away that you ever fucking—everything you fucking love ..."
On Aug. 4, Craig allegedly left Tiemessen a death threat, according to the affidavit, in which he said: "I tell you, motherfucker, you're playing with the wrong fucking boy. I tell you what, you want to play fucking games like that, I'll fucking kill you. There's a fucking threat now, fucking bring it on, motherfucker. You got that? You wanna fuck with my boy like that, I will come and fucking kill you ..."
Karen says she can't comment on what led to this alleged explosion of anger due to the ongoing criminal investigation, and that it's Sarah Palin and her daughter Willow who are actually at the root of the mess. In 2008, Shawn contacted Palin's office following the announcement of her vice-presidential run, asking for information on her views. "In the beginning of 2009, he began receiving text messages and phone calls from who we believe is Willow Palin," says Karen. When asked how she knew it was Willow, Karen says, "It was from the conversations they had," and that the phone number was an Alaska number. "Shawn and Willow," Karen says, "were texting back and forth." Sarah Palin also got in on the texting, she contends, which included sexually explicit messages. "I don't know what they said—my husband knows the conversations more than I do," Karen says, "and even if I did, I don't know if I can say."
Since that time, she says, the Palins and law enforcement have gone after Craig and Shawn with restraining orders, which resulted in Shawn losing two jobs, at Hazelton Oil and Environmental and then at a PVC-pipe maker. With the cash-strapped family doing their own legal representation, and with growing frustration at their inability to communicate with legal officials involved with the restraining orders, Shawn flew to Anchorage in February—his first trip on a jet—to do some law research and speak to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. He told the paper he had verified with legal authorities that the visit would not violate the existing orders of protection.
Soon Shawn will make another trip to Anchorage, a place he described to Karen as "overrated," she says. "He didn't like Alaska."