GARY, IND. - This article was originally published on January 25, 2014.
A woman and three children who claimed to be possessed by demons. A 9-year-old boy walking backward up a wall in the presence of a family case manager and hospital nurse.
Gary 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 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. And many readers will find Ammons' supernatural claims impossible to accept.
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.
Ammons, who swears by her story, has been unusually open. While she spoke on condition her children not be interviewed or named, she signed releases letting The Star review medical, psychological and official records that are not open to the public — and not always flattering.
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's a tale, they say, that 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.
Even after they locked the door, the noise continued.
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. Campbell said she remembers being terrified.
"I thought, 'What's going on?' " Campbell said. " 'Why is this happening?' "
Eventually, Campbell said, her granddaughter descended onto the bed. The girl woke up with no memory of what happened, Campbell said.
Campbell and Ammons said the people who were visiting that night refused to return.
Campbell says she remembers telling her daughter, "We need help. We need to talk to someone who knows how to deal with it."
Campbell and Ammons said they didn't know exactly what "it" was, but they believed it was something supernatural.
They called local churches, 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.
At the church's suggestion, Ammons said she poured olive oil on her three children's hands and feet, then smeared oil in the shape of crosses on their foreheads.
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.
Ammons covered an end table with a white sheet, then placed a white candle and statue of Mary, Joseph and Jesus on it. She opened a Bible to Psalm 91.
She said she and another person donned white T-shirts and wound white scarves around their heads.
Also on a clairvoyant's advice, they burned sage and sulfur throughout the house, starting upstairs and working their way down. The smoke was so thick they could hardly breathe.
Ammons drew a cross with the smoke.
The person she was with read Psalm 91 aloud as they moved through the house:
"You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday."
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."
The youngest boy, then 7, sat in a closet talking to a boy that no one else could see. The other boy was describing what it felt like to be killed.
Campbell said the 7-year-old once flew out of the bathroom as if he'd been thrown, and a headboard once smacked into Ammons' daughter, causing a wound that needed stitches.
The 12-year-old would later tell mental health professionals that she sometimes felt as if she were being choked and held down so she couldn't speak or move. She said she heard a voice say she'd never see her family again and wouldn't live another 20 minutes.
Some nights were so bad the family slept at a hotel.
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."
He said he would not speak in more detail unless Ammons had "psychiatric clearance" for the waiver of confidentiality she had signed.
In his medical notes about the visit, Onyeukwu wrote "delusions of ghost in home" and "hallucinations." He also wrote "history of ghost at home" and "delusional."
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.
Police and emergency personnel took the boys to Methodist Hospital's campus in Gary.
Ammons said hospital personnel laughed at her desire to anoint her sons in olive oil.
"I couldn't talk to them," she said, "so I talked to God."
The boys woke up in the hospital. The older boy, then 9, acted rationally, but the youngest screamed and thrashed, Campbell said.
She said it took five men to hold him down.
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, speculated that Ammons might have a mental illness. The person 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 gave the following account to police and in her intake officer's report:
Hospital personnel examined Ammons and her children and found them to be healthy and free of marks or bruises. A hospital psychiatrist evaluated Ammons and determined she was of "sound mind."
Washington 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."
Later, police asked Washington whether the boy had run up the wall, as though performing an acrobatic trick.
No, Washington told them. She said the boy "glided backward on the floor, wall and ceiling," according to a police report.
Washington did not respond to The Star's requests for comment.
But she told police she was scared when it happened and ran out of the room. As for Walker, Washington said, "he ran out of the room with me."
"We didn't know what was going on," Walker told The Star. "That was crazy. I was like, 'Everybody gotta go.' "
According to Washington's report, they told a doctor what happened. The doctor, who did not believe them, asked the boy to walk up the wall again.
Walker said he told the doctor he doubted the boy could repeat the feat. "This kid was not himself when he did that," Walker said.
The boy said he didn't remember what happened and couldn't do it, according to Washington's report.
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.
A police report quoted Washington saying she believed there could be an "evil influence" affecting the family.
Ammons said she spent the night at the hospital with her 7-year-old son while Campbell took Ammons' daughter and older son to a relative's home in Gary.
The next day was Ammons' youngest son's eighth birthday. Ammons said DCS officials asked Campbell to bring the older children back to the hospital, presumably to talk more about what happened.
The family celebrated the boy's birthday by singing and eating a miniature cake. Then, Ammons said Washington told them the children wouldn't be going home.
DCS took the emergency step of taking custody of the children without a court order.
"All of the children were expericing (sic) spiritual and emotional distress," Washington wrote in the DCS form.
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."
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 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.
The interview was interrupted again when Campbell pointed out Venetian blinds in the kitchen swinging even though there was no air current. Maginot said he also saw wet footprints throughout the living room.
Ammons complained about having a headache. Maginot said she convulsed when he placed a crucifix against her head.
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.
Maginot blessed the house before he left — praying, reading from the Bible and sprinkling holy water in each room.
He told Ammons and Campbell to leave because it wasn't safe. They temporarily moved in with a relative.
But less than a week later, the two women were back on Carolina Street to let Washington, the DCS family case manager, 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."
Ammons refused to go inside, but Campbell agreed to accompany the group. Ammons' kids still were in DCS custody.
The main floor had three bedrooms, a living room, one bathroom, hardwood floors and a small, open-style kitchen. A door in the kitchen led to a basement with concrete floors.
Directly under the stairs was a dirt floor. The concrete around it was jagged, as though it had been broken.
The makeshift altar Ammons had created was still in place, along with rings of salt she had poured against the basement walls to "dissuade the demons," according to a Hammond Police Department report.
Campbell told officers that demons seemed to emanate from beneath the stairs.
Austin, the Gary police captain, was one of those officers. He 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.
During the interview with Campbell, one of the officer's audio recorders malfunctioned, according to Austin and Hammond police records. The power light flashed to indicate the batteries were dying, even though the officer had placed fresh batteries in the recorder earlier that day.
Another officer recorded audio and, when he played it back later, heard an unknown voice whisper "hey," according to Lake County police records.
That officer also took photos of the house. In one photo of the basement stairs, there was a cloudy white image in the upper right-hand corner. When an officer enlarged the photo, that cloud appeared to resemble a face, Lake County police records state. The enlargement also revealed a second, green image that police say looked like a female.
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.
He said he had the car checked at a dealership, and the mechanic told him the motor on the driver's seat was broken, which the mechanic said could have caused a distraction leading to an accident.
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.
In April 2012, DCS petitioned Lake Juvenile Court for temporary wardship of the three children. The request was granted.
DCS found that Ammons neglected her children's education by not having them in school regularly. The agency made the same finding in 2009, its records show.
Ammons told Washington there were times she could not send the kids to school because "the spirits would make them sick, or they would be up all night without sleep."
DCS temporarily placed her daughter and older son 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, who evaluated Ammons' youngest son, 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.
It was then that the 8-year-old's stories became "bizarre, fragmented and illogical," Wright said. His stories changed each time he told them.
He also changed the subject, quizzing Wright on math problems and asking her about outer space.
"Can you die if you go to space?" he asked. "How do you get to space? Do you have to wear a helmet and suit?"
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.
"There also appears to be a need to assess the extent to which (Ammons' daughter) may have been unduly influenced by her mother's concerns that the family was exposed to paranormal experiences," Schwartz wrote.
Ammons' daughter told Schwartz that she saw shadowy figures in the Carolina Street home. She also said she twice went into trances. Ammons' older son told Schwartz that "doors would slam and stuff started moving around."
Ammons also was examined several times by psychologists, who said she was "guarded," but did not seem to be "experiencing symptoms of psychosis or thought disorder." One psychologist recommended Ammons be assessed to "determine whether her religiosity may be masking underlying delusional ideations or perceptual disturbances."
Ammons — and all three kids — continued to insist they were possessed by demons.
DCS set goals for the family. One of them stipulated that the children "not discuss demons and being possessed and ... take responsibility for their actions." They also needed to participate in therapy to address past behavior.
While DCS officials credited Ammons for sharing a "close bond" with her children, the agency also said she needed to use "alternate forms of discipline not directly related to religion and demon possession," according to DCS' case plan. Appropriate discipline included encouragement, rules and withholding privileges. She could work on those goals during supervised visits with the children.
Ammons also had to find a job and appropriate housing "due to the paranormal activity" at the house on Carolina Street.
While Ammons worked on meeting those objectives, police and DCS officials continued to investigate strange happenings in the house.
The group was a bit larger this time.
Campbell, Ammons, Austin and the two other police officers from the initial visit went back to the Carolina Street home on the afternoon of May 10, 2012. The police officers visited after work hours.
They were joined by Maginot, two Lake County officers with a police dog and DCS family case manager Samantha Ilic.
Ilic, who was there in an official capacity, told The Star she volunteered to go in Washington's place because Washington didn't want to go back to the house.
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 told police he wanted to check the dirt under the stairs for a pentagram or personal objects that might have been cursed. He said a pentagram might indicate a demonic presence and possible portal to hell, according to a Lake County police report.
Or if someone had died in the house and was buried under the stairs, it could explain paranormal activity, Maginot added.
One of the police officers dug a 4-foot by 3-foot hole beneath the stairs, unearthing a pink press-on fingernail, a white pair of panties, a political shirt pin, a lid for a small cooking pan, socks with the bottoms cut off below the ankles, candy wrappers and a heavy metal object that looked like a weight for a drapery cord, police records state.
Finding nothing else, the officer replaced the dirt and raked over it.
Maginot blessed some salt, which he said is a barrier to evil, and spread it under the stairs and throughout the basement.
Ilic said she was later standing in the living room with the rest of the group when her left pinky finger started to tingle and whiten. She complained it felt broken.
Less than 10 minutes later, Ilic said she felt as if she was having a panic attack. She couldn't breathe, so she walked outside to wait for the group.
When the priest started questioning Ammons inside the house, she complained of a headache and shoulder pain, according to police records. She joined Ilic outside.
Austin said he left the house at nightfall. Austin — who has been shot at and has investigated murders, rapes and armed robberies during his more than three decades on the force — said he wasn't staying in the house past dark.
The other officers continued to walk through the home. On the main floor, they 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 told police the liquid was a manifestation of a paranormal or demonic presence.
He wrote a report detailing his findings and asked Bishop Dale Melczek's permission to perform an exorcism on Ammons.
Maginot said Melczek had never authorized an exorcism in 21 years as bishop of the Diocese of Gary.
Debbie Bosak, director of communications for the diocese, said she cannot comment on whether Melczek has ever approved an exorcism for confidentiality reasons. In general, she said, such an action would require a bishop's approval.
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."
Ilic said she had a string of medical problems after visiting the home. A week after she visited the house for the last time, Ilic said she got third-degree burns from a motorcycle. Within 30 days, she also broke three ribs Jet Skiing, broke a hand when she hit a table, then broke an ankle running in flip-flops.
"I had friends who wouldn't talk to me because they believed that something had attached itself to me," Ilic said. Her joking response: "I'm already evil. They try to find something that's not evil and corrupt it. They wouldn't waste their time on me."
After the minor ritual, Maginot told Ammons to look up the names of demons that were tormenting her. Each demon has a name and personality, Maginot said.
A name has power, the priest added, and he planned to use those names to fight the demons during the exorcisms.
Ammons said she and a friend looked up the demons' names online by searching for demons that represented the problems the family had been having. The computer kept shutting down. She said she felt sick, lightheaded.
But she said they found names that fit.
One such name was Beelzebub, lord of the flies, Ammons said. She said they also found names of demons that torture and hurt kids, which she felt explained what happened in the Carolina Street house.
Ammons said other high-ranking demons also were assigned to her, including lieutenants and sergeants.
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.
During each, Maginot said, he praised God and condemned the devil.
He pressed a crucifix against Ammons' head as he spoke.
I cast you out, unclean spirit,
along with every Satanic power of the enemy,
every spectre from hell,
and all your fell companions;
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Maginot said his voice continued to get louder and more forceful until the demon weakened. He said he could tell how strong the demon was by how much Ammons convulsed.
Two police officers, who had kept in touch with Maginot since the home investigation, stood nearby in case Ammons needed to be restrained.
Ammons said she prayed with Maginot until it became too painful.
She said she felt as if something inside her was trying to hold on and inflict pain at the same time. She said it was different from a natural pain but felt as intense as giving birth.
"I was hurting all over from the inside out," she remembered. "I'm trying to do my best and be strong."
Eventually, Maginot said, Ammons fell asleep. She said that was the demon's way of lessening the ritual's effect.
In between the second and third exorcisms, Maginot said he went on a retreat. A woman who assisted Maginot with some of the exorcisms helped set up a backup plan in case Ammons had problems while Maginot was gone.
The woman wrote a long demon name — Maginot said he can't remember which one it was — on a piece of paper and tucked it in an envelope, then she surrounded it with blessed salt.
If Ammons had problems, the woman would burn the envelope, Maginot said.
By this time, Ammons and her mother had moved to Indianapolis, but they drove back for the exorcisms and court hearings, as her children were still in DCS' care.
Maginot said he blessed the family's new home to prevent more problems.
But Ammons called while Maginot was on his retreat, complaining of bad dreams, so the woman burned the envelope. She saved the ashes to burn later in a church bonfire.
After that, Ammons said, her nightmares ended.
In the final exorcism at the end of June 2012, Maginot said he prayed and berated the demons in Latin, rather than English.
Police officers did not attend, so Maginot said his brother stood guard. Maginot said Ammons convulsed while he condemned the demons but did not convulse during prayer.
When she fell asleep, he said words of thanksgiving.
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."
When told of the Catholic Church's involvement in the situation, however, Reed said that made him "less skeptical."
Ammons regained custody of her three children in November 2012, about six months after they'd been removed. DCS continued to check in on the children and make sure they were going to school until the case was closed last February.
Ammons called her children's return the happiest day of her life.
She said they screamed and jumped up and down when she picked them up from the DCS office in Gary.
"It was just awesome," Ammons said. "I hadn't been that happy in God knows how long."
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.
"No demonic presences or spirits in the home," DCS family case manager Christina Olejnik wrote in team meeting notes dated Jan. 10, 2013. She did not return calls from The Star seeking comment.
"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."