New documentary examines 'Gray State' murder-suicide

- A new documentary is offering disturbing insight into why an aspiring Minnesota filmmaker, David Crowley, murdered his family before killing himself.

“This is a self-portrait of a man falling to pieces,” said Erik Nelson, the director of the documentary, ‘A Gray State,’ which borrows the name from Crowley’s unfinished film project. The movie has its local premiere Thursday night at the Walker Art Center.

On Jan. 17, 2015, Apple Valley Police found the bodies of David Crowley, 29, his wife Komel, 28, and their five-year-old daughter, Rania. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner determined it was a murder-suicide, with David shooting his wife and daughter before turning the gun on himself.

After a year-long investigation, Apple Valley Police shared details of the grisly crime with the FOX 9 Investigators last year, including how David Crowley scrawled the words Allah Akbar, Arabic for "God is the greatest," on the wall in his wife’s blood. 

“I refer to it as a core sample of American crazy,” said Nelson. “It has conspiracies, belief in the supernatural, Hollywood delusions, you name it.”

For years Crowley worked on a film project called "Gray State," even developing a sophisticated, self-financed concept trailer that became a sensation on the internet. The film imagined a dystopian America in which civil liberties are suspended, and FEMA becomes an occupying army in cities and towns.  

In an interview to promote the trailer Crowley said, “You talk about peak oil, you talk about FEMA camps, about global warming, and the U.N.  They’re preparing for mega-death.”

Beginning in 2013, Crowley turned to the nascent ‘Alt-Right’ movement to finance the project, rubbing elbows with the likes of radio host Alex Jones, who makes a brief cameo in the documentary. Crowley was also in discussions with Hollywood producers about financing his film, but by Oct. 2015 those negotiations had apparently fizzled. 

THE CRIME SCENE

In the last seven weeks of their lives, the Crowleys cut off contact with family and friends, even disconnecting their phones. 

Christmas presents still sat on the front porch when a concerned neighbor heard their dog barking, looked in a front window and saw the bodies. 

Police discovered a horrific crime scene. Bloody footprints indicated David walked around the home after killing his family. On his laptop computer, there was a playlist called "Ascent." On a notepad Crowley wrote, “Submit to Allah, now.”  Between their bodies, a Koran was opened to a traditional forgiveness prayer. 

And then, the words were scrawled on the wall, in Komel’s blood, “Allah Akbar.”

A MOTIVE, WRAPPED IN A CONSPIRACY

“We believe it was a parting shot at her (Komel), for having a Muslim past,” Apple Valley Police Chief Jon Rechtzigel told the FOX 9 Investigators after completing the year-long investigation.  

Detectives believe Crowley’s intense and dark film project played a role in his state of mind. 

“From all accounts, he was consumed with this film and dark topic conspiracy theories about the fall of society,” said Rechtzigel. 

Komel was born in Pakistan, but raised in Texas after her family came to the United States. She was not a practicing Muslim, according to friends and family, who said the couple was not particularly religious, but had spiritual interests. 

David, who served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was critical of Islam because he thought it was oppressive to its followers, particularly women. 

A ‘PRESENCE’ IN THE HOME

With the cooperation of David Crowley’s family, the documentary director had access to hundreds of hours of footage. The documentary shows Crowley at a writer’s board, directing scenes for the film and intimate family moments.

The documentary also reveals that the Crowleys, especially Komel, thought there was a supernatural presence in their home.  

In one scene, just a few weeks before the murder-suicide, David debriefs and comforts Komel after she has a rapture-like experience. 

"You said you've come very far to find me,” David said to Komel. “And Rani and I need to come with you and there's not much time. Time is not of this world.  And there's not much time and you need to come with."

"They literally believed they'd been chased by demons, and had been for a year and a half,” Nelson said.   

The account is confirmed by Mason Hendricks, a co-producer of the documentary and one of the Crowley’s closest friends.

"Those two loved each other so much, there was no convincing them to step outside their reality," said Hendricks. "I think the idea (murder-suicide) was spawned by her (Komel) first and he (David) wanted to believe it too. He ultimately made the decision based on her."

The documentary, ‘A Gray State,’ premieres Thursday, September 21, at 7pm, at the Walker Art Center.

A panel discussion afterwards will be moderated by Deirdre Haj of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and will feature the documentary director, Erik Nelson, Alec Wilkinson of the New Yorker, and Tom Lyden of the FOX 9 Investigators. 

The documentary will be in limited release in local theatres in November, and will be coming to A&E in December.

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