By Sharon Hill
I recall it was a Sunday (Jan 26) when the story of Latoya Ammons and her three children appeared on the Indianapolis Star news website. I had a feeling it was going to be a popular story and wrote it up right away on Doubtful News. It was clear to me from the detailed piece by journalist Marisa Kwiatkowski that the case contained some serious flaws.
It sounded just like a Hollywood movie. Dramatic behavior was described by the police, a priest and health professionals who were disturbed by the case. Yet, as with almost all of these astounding cases, we see described the typical behaviors related to “possession” (none of which have ever been verified other than by religious believers to be actual demon possession). We are offered many eyewitness reports and opinions but no solid evidence of bizarre events - no photos or videos. The witnesses who describe the events, especially Ammons herself, hold a belief in the reality of the supernatural. Even the police interpreted events in a paranormal light, seemingly swallowing the stories they were told at face value. A sense of religiosity in the victims’ daily lives is apparent. A credulous priest encouraged the belief in demons and performed an exorcism. The story snowballed.
Kwiatkowski revisited the circumstances around publishing the story which became the “most-read piece in The Indianapolis Star's history.”
Why did it strike a chord with so many people who were fascinated and frightened by the story of the house from Hell?
Ammons claimed that she and her three children had been possessed by demons. But that's not what really fascinated me. What I found so intriguing was the unusual responses by state and local agencies to Ammons' assertion.
From the very beginning, records indicated those closest to Ammons' case believed her story of demonic possession. A DCS [child services] family case manager and registered nurse even claimed they'd seen Ammons' then-9-year-old son walk backward up a wall at a hospital.
The problem with the “you decide” position taken by the presenter is skewed. In this case, assumptions were left unquestioned and presented as fact – that the witnesses were telling the truth, and that their interpretations were not mistaken or exaggerated. With stories of hauntings, the truth is often stretched and greatly embellished in line with a witness’ paranormal worldview. Even if the witnesses previously had an agnostic view of the paranormal, our culture is fairly accepting of supernatural beliefs that are regarded as “normal” these days, so it’s no stretch to imagine being swept up by the atmosphere of belief, just as the Ammons children were.
The tale of the Ammons horror is far from dead. I was curious to see what developments had transpired after the initial hype (which lasted some two weeks) calmed down.
The family moved and had no further problems with demons at their new location.
Even though the landlord noted there had not been similar problems with the house before or after the Ammons residency, the house was purchased by Ghost Adventures star Zak Bagans. Obviously, he was convinced he would find something anomalous. He always does. On the show Inside Edition, he emphasized the “Biblical” nature of the reports from the house and expressed concern that “people could DIE!!!” (ignoring the fact that the subsequent or previous residents didn’t have issues – why let FACTS get in the way of a good story).
Nickell, who has extensive experience in investigating such cases, concluded that it was hardly about demons at all:
In summary, no demons possessed anyone in this case, except in the figurative sense. What were really unleashed were the dark aspects of superstition, ancient dogma, lust for notoriety, the greed of cynical hucksters, and the stubborn unwillingness of some to be reasoned with.
There was a bidding war for the Ammons’ version of the story. Relativity acquired the life rights to the version of the first hand experiencers.
Last week, the entertainment news site TMZ posted an update from Bagans about how things are going at the house. As you might expect, the haunted hype machine remains in full swing.
While the details are not clear, the article says Bagans brought the former residents back to the house.
Zak convinced different former residents to return to the home for a new documentary ... and as soon as they began filming, demonic activity surfaced. The mother claimed someone kicked her when no one was around. And there were other incidents as well.
A few days later, the daughter began having violent outbursts ... threatening to hurt herself and others. Zak says the girl's family witnessed her speaking in tongues ... exhibiting signs of demonic possession.
Zak claims they brought the girl to a Catholic priest, who performed an exorcism. He recorded the ritual on video. Zak says the girl is now back to her old self.
The documentary was put on ice while everyone dealt with the daughter, and now Zak says he'll return to the house in December ... to finish the film.
As far as I can find, there are no credible professional researchers involved in the Bagans documentary, but I will look forward to seeing it when it airs.
The route taken by those involved has been the monetarily lucrative one, not the quest to actually figure out what really went on - that's already been "decided". I would expect that the airings of the Bagans documentary and the subsequent movies will use the “based on a true story” trope. How true is it, really, when you play up the supernatural at the expense of the rational? Odds are that all three portrayals will downplay the non-paranormal possibilities in exchange for big scares and religious sentiments. In the hundreds of years that people have been looking to pin down demons, it still has not been done. As highly as Bagans thinks of himself, his conclusions are scientifically worthless. New knowledge to understand nature (or super nature) will not be documented via the Travel Channel.
During the height of popularity of the Ammons story, early in the year, some media outlets polled their readers about belief in such supernatural events. The polls were split but some admitted they were more likely to believe in demonic possession after reading about the Ammons. Like it or not, beliefs are introduced and reinforced via our culture and the media. We can expect that to continue as exorcism remains a hot topic.
The skeptical take-aways from this story are sad. Backwards belief in supernatural causes will distract from various real issues going on in a case, perhaps endangering human health and welfare. If this is such an active paranormal site, it’s a prime place to gather credible scientific evidence for demons. But that’s not allowed. Those involved in this story already have their “truth”, they don’t want questions or actual investigation. They just wish to reinforce their antiquated myth and make money off it.