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Jerry Davich: Exercising skepticism about ‘demonic possession’

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Do you believe or not believe?

This is what intrigues me most about the recent story of the former Gary mother of three who claimed her children were victims of “demonic possession” two years ago. Either you believe her or you don’t.

An exhaustively researched, finely written and now well-traveled story in the Indianapolis Star chronicles the claims of Latoya Ammons, who still “swears by her story” of demonic possession, supernatural happenings and unexplainable phenomena while living at 3860 Carolina St.

Swarming black flies in the dead of winter. Sounds of ghostly footsteps climbing stairs. Creaks of doors opening and closing. Shadowy apparitions pacing the floors. But wait there’s more.

Ammons’s 12-year-old daughter levitating above a bed, just like in “The Exorcist.” Her 9-year-old son walking backward up a wall. Evil smiles. Demonic voices. Phantom chokings. You name it.

Plus, psychological evaluations. Police interventions. Public records. Spirit cleansings. Scriptural altars. Visits by clairvoyants. And even three exorcisms involving the Diocese of Gary. It’s like something straight out of Hollywood Central Casting 101.

But did it all happen? Were demons involved? Satan? God? Hmmmm ...

The power of critical thinking compels me to question everything here, despite the mother’s insistence it all actually happened.

“When you hear something like this, don’t assume it’s not real because I’ve lived it. I know it’s real,” Ammons told Indy Star investigative reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski, a former region journalist.

Kwiatkowski spent five months on her top-notch investigative story, though much of that time was waiting on requested public records, she told me.

I asked her flat-out, does she believe the mother’s claims?

“I’m paid not to have an opinion,” she tactfully replied.

What she means is that she’s paid to write stories without inserting her opinion. Surely she has an opinion about this story and other ones, too. She just can’t print it or publicly say it. I, on the other hand, get paid to publicly state my opinions. So ...

I am skeptical of all this, as you would expect of me. Not only of the supernatural happenings, but also the suggested source behind them — demons, Satan, Beelzebub, what have you. So I did some poking around. Not in hell, but in this region (no jokes, please).

First, I spoke with the Lake County Sheriff’s Police officer who first investigated the mother’s claims via a request from the Indiana Department of Child Services. The officer, who requested his name not be revealed, labels himself a “naysayer” about the mother’s claims of demonic possession.

“Yes, weird things happened there but if more of our time, efforts and resources were committed to this case, I believe we would have a different outcome,” he told me.

He took photos of the home using his camera phone, including the intriguing photo used for this column of the home’s exterior, showing an alleged apparition in the front window. Admittedly, it is a creepy image in that window.

He also shared with me the audio recording of his investigation, on April 27, 2012, when a mysterious voice allegedly says “Hey” at the 20-minute mark.

“I didn’t hear anything while recording there, but something comes up on it afterward,” he said.

I listened to it several times but am still not convinced of any supernatural properties. Neither is the officer, a lieutenant in the department. He’s been fielding countless calls about this nearly two-year-old story from media outlets across the country and also from overseas.

“Yeah, I’ve been busy,” he said lightheartedly.

I then contacted the Diocese of Gary, which reportedly approved three exorcisms of the children, namely by the Rev. Michael Maginot of St. Stephen Martyr Parish in Merrillville.

“We can confirm an exorcism did take place at that point in time,” said Diocese of Gary spokeswoman Debbie Bosak. “The bishop, as would most bishops throughout the country, considers this to be the performance of a very serious and private ministry of the church and would never breech confidentiality in this regard.”

“As you are well aware, there is much media attention on this right now and many will find it intriguing,” Bosak added. “However, when the Indy Star started working on this early last fall, the response of the bishop’s office was the same as it would be now. So, I’m afraid, there is nothing we can comment on without breaking that confidentiality.”

Not only were police, DCS workers and other public agencies involved in this situation, so was the Catholic Church. This must lend some credence to the mother’s claims about that Gary house, right? Not exactly, I maintain.

I also talked with Morgan Walker, 23, of Gary, who used to live in that very home, just a year or so before Latoya Ammons moved in. While attending Purdue University Calumet as a freshman, Walker lived in that home for more than a year with her mother, sister and her sister’s five children. Nothing at all supernatural happened there.

“No one levitated and no objects were thrown,” Walker told me half-jokingly.

What is your opinion on this allegedly supernatural situation? Demonic possession? A well-documented scam? Creepy occurrence? Systematic delusion? A mother’s spell over her vulnerable children?

Before answering, maybe you should first read the initial story to get all the sorted and sordid details, not that they will do you any good, I believe. Regardless of “facts,” documented paperwork and reams of public records, this still ultimately comes down to belief.

Believers will want to believe even if it scares the hell out of them, or into them. Skeptics will not believe even if these incidents are substantiated by seemingly credible people.

This, I believe, is the beauty, the blessing and the curse of this story and others like it.

As I asked earlier, do you believe or not believe? Your response says more about you and less about this story.

Connect with Jerry via email, at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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