Jett's youthful fishing buddy got him into the drama crowd at school and he became an enthusiastic member of the school's competitive drama club, playing roles in school productions of "M*A*S*H" — as Colonel Potter — and in Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" playing a drunken security guard. He won a narrative-telling competition in 2004, and participated as a judge in drama tournaments at schools throughout the area.
But during the summer, as Jett prepared for his senior year in high school, the family began to notice changes in his otherwise sunny demeanor.
Josh, 30, who was adopted by Richard's mother, said he learned his younger sibling had begun smoking marijuana, a troubling development that Josh said prompted him to give his brother a stern talking to. The Parnells said they would later learn he'd also experimented with cocaine and muscle relaxants.
Jett's middling grades fell further when the school year started. He began failing classes.
The Parnells said they pressed him to work harder. "We always told him,'we have our jobs and you have yours. Your job is school. We'll take [care] of everything else, you just do your job at school."
They said he loves video games and planned to go to college to study gaming design.
Jett was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a young boy, but refused to take medication, including Ritalin, because it made him sick, they said. They said he had never taken antidepressants or mood-stabilizing drugs.
On Jan. 13, 2008, the crisis deepened. Robyn noticed that her debit card was missing and went online and discovered that $300 had been withdrawn without her knowledge. The same day, Richard realized that three of his guns were missing.
Jett had been at an all-day mock trial competition at school but had failed to come home.
They received a call from him late that evening and said he was clearly agitated.
"I'll be home in the morning," they said he told them. "I've done something wrong and I'm trying to make it right."
The next day he told his father that he'd owed some gambling debts to "some street kids" and that "that's where the money [and the guns] went." The teen vowed to his father that he would "fix things" and said he'd made arrangements to get the money and the guns back.
Richard sensed trouble and put his foot down.
"No you are not," he told his son firmly. "I'm the injured party here. I'm out my property. This is over right now. When you get involved with people like that, you never, ever win. I told him 'we're going to leave this whole thing alone and walk away.'"
Jett reluctantly agreed and the Parnells thought the episode was behind them. But they said they began to monitor their son more closely.
Then last Monday, police officers showed up unexpectedly at the Parnell home. Robyn and Jett were there alone. Robyn said the chaotic scene that ensued was "like a bad movie."
"There was a knock at the door and the police were standing there outside. I told Jacob to come down and hold the dog," Robyn said. "I opened the door and they said, 'Is Jacob here? We need to talk to you.'"
"I kept saying, 'Is my husband OK? Is my husband OK?'"
"We need to come in," an officer told her.
"Is my husband OK?"
"Yes, your husband's OK," she recalled them saying.
"Three of them came at me and two came towards Jacob. They started backing me into the living room and separating Jacob into the kitchen area."