Marisa Kwiatkowski, The Indianapolis Star [Full Story]
Police Capt. Charles Austin said it was the strangest story he had ever heard.
Austin, a 36-year veteran of the Gary Police Department, said he initially thought Indianapolis resident Latoya Ammons and her family concocted an elaborate tale of demon possessions and supernatural occurrences as a way to make money. But after several visits to their home and interviews with witnesses, Austin said simply, “I am a believer.”
Not everyone involved with the family was inclined to believe its incredible story.
But, whatever the cause of the creepy occurrences that befell the family — whether they were seized by a systematic delusion or demonic possession — it led to one of the most unusual cases ever handled by the Department of Child Services. Many of the events are detailed in nearly 800 pages of official records obtained by The Indianapolis Star and recounted in more than a dozen interviews with police, DCS personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.
Furthermore, the family’s story is made only more bizarre because it involves a DCS intervention, a string of psychological evaluations, a police investigation and, ultimately, a series of exorcisms.
It started with flies
In November 2011, Ammons’ family moved into a rental house on Carolina Street in Gary, a quiet lane lined with small one-story homes. Big black flies suddenly swarmed their screened-in porch in December, despite the winter chill.
“This is not normal,” Ammons’ mother, Rosa Campbell, remembers thinking. “We killed them and killed them and killed them, but they kept coming back.”
There were other strange happenings, too.
After midnight, Campbell and Ammons both said, they occasionally heard the steady clump of footsteps climbing the basement stairs and the creak of the door opening between the basement and kitchen. No one was there.
Campbell said she awoke one night and saw a shadowy figure of a man pacing her living room. She leaped out of bed to investigate, and found large, wet bootprints.
On March 10, 2012, Campbell said, the family’s unease turned to fear.
It was about 2 a.m. Normally, Campbell, Ammons and her children would have been asleep, but they were mourning the death of a loved one with a group of friends.
Ammons, who was in Campbell’s bedroom, startled everyone by screaming, “Mama! Mama!”
Campbell said she ran into her bedroom, where her then-12-year-old granddaughter and a friend were staying.
Ammons and Campbell said the 12-year-old was levitating above the bed, unconscious.
According to their account of events, Ammons and several others surrounded the girl, praying. Eventually, Campbell said, her granddaughter descended onto the bed. The girl woke up with no memory of what happened, Campbell said.
Family sought help
Campbell and Ammons called local churches looking for help with what they believed was something supernatural, but most refused to listen.
Eventually, after listening to Campbell and Ammons talk about the house and visiting it, officials at one church told them the Carolina Street house had spirits in it. They recommended the family clean the home with bleach and ammonia, then use oil to draw crosses on every door and window.
Campbell and Ammons also told The Star they reached out to two clairvoyants, who said the family’s home was besieged by more than 200 demons. Their explanation made sense to Campbell and Ammons, they say, because it meshed with their Christian faith.
The best thing you can do is move, Ammons remembers the clairvoyants telling her. But moving wasn’t an option for the cash-strapped family.
Instead, Ammons said she took a clairvoyant’s advice and made an altar in the basement.
Also on a clairvoyant’s advice, they burned sage and sulfur throughout the house, and a person she was with read Psalm 91 aloud.
Ammons said nothing odd happened for three days. Then, things got worse.
The family said demons possessed Ammons and her children, then ages 7, 9 and 12. The kids’ eyes bulged, evil smiles crossed their faces, and their voices deepened every time it happened, Campbell and Ammons said.
Campbell said the demons didn’t affect her because she was born with protection from evil. She said she, and others like her, have a guardian who protects them.
Ammons said she felt weak, lightheaded and warm when she was possessed. Her body shook, and she said she felt out-of-control.
“You can tell it’s different, something supernatural.”
Finally, in desperation, they went to their family physician, Dr. Geoffrey Onyeukwu, on April 19, 2012. Ammons said she told him what they were going through, hoping he might understand.
Onyeukwu told The Star it was “bizarre.”
“Twenty years, and I’ve never heard anything like that in my life,” he said. “I was scared myself when I walked into the room.”
In his medical notes about the visit, Onyeukwu wrote “delusions of ghost in home” and “hallucinations.”
What Ammons and Campbell say happened next also was detailed in a DCS report of a family case manager’s interviews with medical staff.
Campbell said Ammons’ sons cursed Onyeukwu in demonic voices, raging at him. Medical staff said the youngest boy was “lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him,” according to a DCS report.
The boys abruptly passed out and wouldn’t come to, Campbell added. She cradled one boy in her arms; Ammons held the other.
Someone from the doctor’s office called 911. Onyeukwu said seven or eight police officers and multiple ambulances showed up.
“Everybody was … they couldn’t figure out exactly what was happening,” he recalled.
Meanwhile, someone called DCS and asked the agency to investigate Ammons for possible child abuse or neglect. The caller, who is not named in the DCS report, believed the children were performing for Ammons, and she was encouraging their behavior.
DCS family case manager Valerie Washington was asked to handle the initial investigation. She interviewed the family in the hospital.
While she spoke with Ammons, the 7-year-old boy started growling with his teeth showing. His eyes rolled back in his head.
The boy locked his hands around his older brother’s throat and refused to let go until adults pried his hands open.
Later that evening, Washington and registered nurse Willie Lee Walker brought the two boys into a small exam room for an interview. Campbell joined them.
The 7-year-old stared into his brother’s eyes and began to growl again.
“It’s time to die,” the boy said in a deep, unnatural voice. “I will kill you.”
While the youngest boy spoke, the older brother started head-butting Campbell in the stomach.
Campbell grabbed her grandson’s hands and started praying.
What happened next would rattle the witnesses, and to some it would offer not only evidence but proof of paranormal activity.
According to Washington’s original DCS report— an account corroborated by Walker, the nurse — the 9-year-old had a “weird grin” and walked backward up a wall to the ceiling. He then flipped over Campbell, landing on his feet. He never let go of his grandmother’s hand.
“He walked up the wall, flipped over her and stood there,” Walker told The Star. “There’s no way he could’ve done that.”
Walker, who said he previously believed in demons and spirits, thought the boy’s behavior had “some demonic spirit to it” but also was the result of a mental illness.
The next day, DCS took the emergency step of taking custody of the children without a court order.
Ammons told The Star she and her children cried because they didn’t want to be separated.
“We’d already been through so much and fought so hard for our lives,” she recalled. “It was obvious we were a team, and we were beating it — whatever we were fighting. We made it through together as a team, and they separated us.”
Request for an exorcism
The Rev. Michael Maginot was leading Bible study in his living room the morning of April 20, 2012, when he received a call from a hospital chaplain.
Maginot had been the priest at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish, in Merrillville, Ind., for more than 10 years but had never received a request like this one — the chaplain asked him to perform an exorcism on Ammons’ 9-year-old son.
Maginot agreed to interview the family after Sunday Mass a few days later.
The first step, Maginot said, was ruling out natural causes for what Ammons and her family said they were experiencing.
He visited Ammons and Campbell in the Carolina Street home April 22, 2012. For two hours, Ammons and Campbell detailed the phenomena for him. Then, Campbell interrupted the interview to point out a flickering bathroom light.
The flickering stopped each time Maginot walked over to investigate — which he attributed to a demonic presence.
“It must be scared of me,” he later told The Star he had thought.
After a four-hour interview, Maginot said he was convinced the family was being tormented by demons. He said he also believed there were ghosts in the house.
Less than a week later, Washington, the DCS family case manager, arrived to check the condition of the home. Washington asked a Lake County police officer to come with her.
Two other officers, one each from Gary and Hammond police departments, asked to join them out of “professional curiosity.”
Austin, the Gary police captain, later told The Star he believed in ghosts and the supernatural but said he didn’t believe in demons.
Austin said he changed his mind after visiting the Carolina Street house.
Austin said photos he snapped with his iPhone also seemed to have strange silhouettes in them. The radio in his police-issued Ford malfunctioned on the way home.
Later, Austin said the garage at his Gary home refused to open, even though the power was on everywhere else.
Austin said the driver’s seat in his personal 2005 Infiniti also started moving backward and forward on its own.
Austin said he found himself starting to believe Ammons’ claims of paranormal activity. But the mental health professionals evaluating Ammons and her children remained skeptical.
Mom, kids deemed delusional
In April 2012, DCS successfully petitioned Lake Juvenile Court for temporary wardship of the three children.
DCS temporarily housed the two older children at St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home in East Chicago. Ammons’ youngest son was sent to Christian Haven in Wheatfield for a psychiatric evaluation.
Clinical psychologist Stacy Wright said the boy tended to act possessed when he was challenged, redirected or asked questions he didn’t want to answer. In her evaluation, Wright wrote that he seemed coherent and logical except when he talked about demons.
Wright believed the 8-year-old did not suffer from a true psychotic disorder.
“This appears to be an unfortunate and sad case of a child who has been induced into a delusional system perpetuated by his mother and potentially reinforced” by other relatives, she wrote in her psychological evaluation.
Clinical psychologist Joel Schwartz, who evaluated Ammons’ daughter and older son, came to a similar conclusion.
Police and DCS officials continued to investigate strange happenings in the house.
Campbell, Ammons, Austin and the two other police officers from the initial visit went back to the home after work hours on May 10, 2012. They were joined by Maginot, two Lake County officers with a police dog and DCS family case manager Samantha Ilic.
A county officer took his police dog around the home, but the dog didn’t show interest in any particular area, according to Lake County police records. Everyone else headed into the basement.
Ilic touched some strange liquid she saw dripping in the basement, and said it felt slippery yet sticky between her fingers.
Maginot blessed some salt, which he said is a barrier to evil, and spread it under the stairs and throughout the basement.
On the main floor, officers noticed an oil-like substance dripping from venetian blinds in a bedroom but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, police records state.
To make sure Campbell or Ammons hadn’t poured oil on the blinds, two of the officers used paper towels to clean it off. The officers sealed the room for 25 minutes and stood nearby so no one could walk in.
When they went back in, the oil had reappeared, according to police records.
Maginot wrote a report detailing his findings and asked Bishop Dale Melczek’s permission to perform an exorcism on Ammons.
A series of exorcisms
Maginot said Melczek had never authorized an exorcism in 21 years as bishop of the Diocese of Gary.
Melczek initially denied Maginot’s request to do a church-sanctioned exorcism, Maginot said. The bishop told Maginot to contact other priests who have performed exorcisms.
Maginot said he needed other priests to give him the ritual for a minor exorcism, which does not require church approval. The priests he consulted told him to look it up on the Internet.
He said he did an “intense blessing” on the Carolina Street home to expel bad spirits.
That same day, Maginot performed a minor exorcism on Ammons. The ritual consisted of prayers, statements and appeals to cast out demons.
Two police officers and Ilic, the DCS family case manager, attended the ritual.
Ilic said she left believing that something was going on, although she wouldn’t go as far as saying it was demonic. She said she got chills during the nearly two-hour rite.
“We felt like someone was in the room with you, someone breathing down your neck.”
After the minor rite, Maginot said Bishop Melczek gave him permission to exorcise Ammons. The ritual is the same as the minor exorcism but more powerful because it has the backing of the Catholic Church, Maginot said.
Maginot ultimately performed three major exorcisms on Ammons – two in English, and the last one in Latin – in June 2012 at his Merrillville church.
In the final exorcism at the end of June 2012, Maginot said he prayed and berated the demons in Latin, rather than English.
It would be the last time Ammons saw Maginot. She and her mother drove back to Indianapolis, where they say they now live without fear.
Ammons’ old home on Carolina Street became an object of local curiosity — so much so that the owner and landlord, Charles Reed, called the Gary Police Department to ask officers to stop driving by the house because it was scaring his new tenant.
He said there were no problems in the home before or after Ammons and her family lived there.
“I thought I heard it all,” said Reed, who’s been a landlord for 33 years. “This was a new one to me. My belief system has a hard time jumping over that bridge.”
Ammons regained custody of her three children in November 2012 and the DCS closed the case last February.
The children said they felt safe after they left the house on Carolina Street, the family said. The three left their demonic voices and complaints behind them.
“The family is no longer fixated solely on religion to explain or cope with the children’s behavior issues,” Olejnik and her supervisor wrote in a request for dismissal of wardship dated Jan. 24, 2013.
For her part, Ammons said it was not the psychologists who resolved her problems but God.
“When you hear something like this,” she said, “don’t assume it’s not real because I’ve lived it. I know it’s real.”