For most people the word itself conjures up images of young Linda Blair tied to the bed between an old priest and a young priest, head spinning while bright green rivers of split pea soup pour out of her mouth, that is when she’s not rattling off hair curling obscenities and shockingly personal demonic barbs about your dead relatives. Like it or not The Exorcist is to demonic possession movies what Charlie Manson is to murder – the one that gets all the attention. Sure, Hollywood has made a slew of damn good demonic possession movies since – The Amityville Horror, The Devil Inside, The Possession, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite, and The Last Exorcism to name a few – but let’s be honest, it’s the famous stairs to the house on Prospect Street that come to mind first, if not the image of Linda defiling herself with a crucifix. All the rest are just reflections on what William Peter Blatty started, tributes if you will, to a master storyteller.
But what happens when this lurid idea of unrepentant evil spirits from the wretched bowels of some hot, dark hell taking over the helpless bodies of innocent children leaps right off the big screen and into your life, becoming your reality? How far would you go to protect the ones you love the most from potentially becoming Satan’s unwilling lapdogs? Would you be open to let some strange man tie down your child and chant Bible verses at them while dousing their bodies in holy water and invoking Jesus? Turns out there are a lot of Americans who would do just that.
Since the turn of the millennium exorcism has been alive and well in America. Reports documenting the practice reveal that the Archbishop of Calcutta Henry Sebastian D’Souza admits he ordered an exorcism performed on Mother Teresa before she died in 1997 after the famous nun expressed fear she was being attacked by the devil. The newly canonized Saint John Paul the Great supposedly performed one on an Italian girl that didn’t take, having previously had success in a similar situation years before on a convulsing child brought to the Vatican.
By and large, Catholics are the reigning world heavyweight champions of demon eviction, but it’s not just the guys in the white collars evicting demons in the Age of Aquarius. According to Michael Cuneo, a sociologist at Fordham University and the author of American Exorcism, there as many as 600 evangelical exorcism ministries in operation today. Protestants, Pentecostals, and other flavors of Christians, as well as New Age practitioners are getting in on the act as well.
Historically Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists have all tried their hand at forcing evil spirits out of afflicted living hosts with various results. Even Jesus dabbled in the practice, according to the New Testament, tackling the infamous demonic horde known as Legion and sending them into an unlucky herd of nearby pigs. Yet despite numerous accounts throughout history demonic possession is not currently considered to be a valid medical diagnosis. Instead it’s attributed to mental illness, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that almost 30 percent of people with dissociative identity disorder questioned identified themselves as demons when asked who they were. According to modern day science, successful exorcisms are attributed to the placebo effect and the power of suggestion. Still, that hasn’t stopped the practice from flourishing.
Which brings us to Indiana. For Latoya Ammons, the trouble started in March of 2012, four full months after she and her three kids had moved into a rental house in Gary, along with their grandmother Rosa Campbell. What started out as the sound of wet footsteps late at night and creaking doors escalated into a 12-year-old daughter levitating off her bed and hollering bloody murder at 2 a.m. Campbell claims to have been awoken by the screams and witnessed the occurrence as well. The girl then allegedly fell back to the bed and awoke with no memory of the incident, but the fun was just getting started for the Ammons family.
Latoya brought in some religious types to check things out the next week, along with two clairvoyants who told her 200 some odd demons were living in the house and that there was a portal to hell in the basement. Since renters insurance doesn’t cover acts of evil, they instructed her to take matters into her own hands by building an altar down there, complete with Jesus and Mary figurines ringed with candles, to cast out the demons they claimed were residing in the house. At the suggestion of her church friends, she also poured olive oil on the children’s hands and feet, hung crosses, had friends pray over the makeshift altar, and even burned sage to spiritually cleanse the residence. Things only got worse from there. We’re talking headaches, windows and door slamming, and worst of all, disturbing behavior from her kids that could not easily be explained by growing pains or sibling rivalry.
By April, Latoya was at the end of her proverbial rope. She took the children to see a family physician named Dr. Geoffrey Onyeukwu. A report by the Department of Children Services states that medical staff at the doctor’s office said they witnessed one of the children being lifted and thrown against the wall without anyone touching him. Later one of the boys began cursing at Onyeukwu in a demonic voice before he and his brother abruptly lost consciousness and could not be woken up. The police were called and the children were transported to the hospital. When the youngest finally came around he began violently thrashing about and cursing. It took five grown men to subdue the child. DCS family case manager Valerie Washington was then called in to evaluate the children for signs of mental illness or abuse, assuming they’d been coached into these stories by Ammons or one of her overly religious relatives. Her reports detail the children going into trances, speaking in voices not their own, and throwing tantrums, all behavior that can be easily explained by the overactive imaginations of children. That’s when, according to her report, shit got really weird.
The New York Daily News reports that during one interview at the hospital Washington claims she witnessed the 9-year-old allegedly head-butting his grandmother Rosa Campbell, who took his hand and began to pray. In front of the DCS worker and Willie Lee Walker, a registered nurse who was in the room at the time of the incident, the boy then allegedly moonwalked backward up a wall and onto the ceiling “like he was gliding” before flipping over his grandmother and landing catlike on his feet.
The kids were taken into custody by Child Services, Ammons was evaluated for mental illness and found to be of sound mind, but the occurrences didn’t end. The house raged on. Ammons packed up her things but was forced to return to the residence to meet with DCS for an interview. Gary police Capt. Charles Austin and another officer oversaw the meeting Washington had with Ammons and her mother during which time he claims his police audio recorder malfunctioned and died despite having fresh batteries. Later while listening to the recording, he claims the sound of a voice whispering “hey” could be heard. Photos taken in the home’s basement purportedly reveal a cloudy image that when enlarged resembled a human face. The Captain now claims he believes in spirits and refuses to return to the house.
Enter Rev. Michael Maginot, a Catholic priest who was called by the hospital chaplain and asked to perform an exorcism on the boy. Maginot eventually performed several exorcisms on Ammons family members. His request to the Catholic Church, who generally frowns on the practice nowadays and must be convinced it is absolutely necessary, is filled with a laundry list of supposedly supernatural activity. It can be read online.
DCS filed a petition for temporary custody of the Ammons kids, which was immediately granted. During that time, all three children were given evaluations by separate psychologists. Each evaluation’s report concluded that the children’s behavior was reinforced by their mother or relatives. According to their assessment they found “no demonic presences or spirits in the home” despite what the Captain and other witnesses claimed. Charles Reed, the owner of the Indiana home at the time, told the Star that he had never heard of such problems before the family moved in. Reed rented the house again right away and according to him the next tenant never filed a single supernatural complaint.
So what really happened in Indiana? Speculation has exploded on the internet about the real cause of the Ammons’ purported demonic escapades, including one guy suggesting that the kid in question was secretly a Parkour master, but does that explain why both the DCS case worker and the registered nurse would invent such a whopper of a tall tale? What could the Captain of the police get out of going on record that he now believes in evil spirits because of the incident, other than the ridicule of his disbelieving friends and coworkers? Is this a case of religious hysteria and the power of suggestion, especially on the minds of small children or does this really prove once and for all that spirits and demons exist? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is clear, however. The people who experience this first hand one hundred percent believe it really happened. To them it is all too real.
Rev. Michael Maginot has grown famous since the events occurred in part because of selling his movie rights to one of the producers of Insidious. He’s been on television to talk about his role in the fight against evil, ironically on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News. In a recent interview with Catholic to the Max, Maginot stated that he believed exorcism was part of Jesus’s gospel, related to healing the sick, and that he is engaging in spiritual warfare. The good father has also purportedly closed a deal with Zak Bagans, host of “Ghost Adventures” on the Travel Channel, to make a documentary about his experience in the home. Bagans purchased the home for $35,000 and plans to live there while filming. He told TMZ that if the house truly is a ‘portal to hell’ he wants to capture it all. There’s no word whether Ammons or her family members will be involved in the project. Personally I can’t wait to see how this bizarre tale translates onto the big screen. After all, Insidious is one of the best horror series of all time. I can’t wait to see what Tony DeRosa-Grund does with it. It is after all a fantastic story, and, as the old saying goes, why let a little thing like whether or not it’s really true get in the way?