Indiana family: Demons, possession and exorcism, oh my!

Indiana family: Demons, possession and exorcism, oh my! January 31, 2014

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to separate the subject of a story from its journalistic merits.

You can try, of course. You can look for proper attribution and treatment, context and clarity. Fairness.

But when your head still can’t get around the topic by the story’s end, something still might be missing.

In this case, I suppose it’s the why. And I’ll explain why in just a bit.

The story I’m referencing is the Indianapolis Star’s piece earlier this week headlined “The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons.”

My fellow GetReligionistas circulated the piece via email, and the general consensus was that it was outstanding work. No one seemed eager to post about it, though (smile). And if the headline didn’t convict you of why, the lede  surely will:

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.

It’s a long story, but read it. I’ll wait.

The telling of the story is incredible. It reads as though you’re living it in ghoulish real-time, both in terms of the supernatural allegations to the separation by the Department of Child Services of a mother from her three young children.

It is thoroughly sourced with documents and individuals close to the case, as well. We hear from state workers, police officers, hospital personnel and both directly and indirectly from the Catholic Church.

But …


First, and in fairness this was covered quickly in the piece, but why did the family not leave a rented home they believed to be possessed by demons before the demons allegedly were allowed to possess them? We’re told it was because finances were tight. And yes, hindsight is always 20/20, but with nights spent in hotels, the cost of sacraments needed to ward off the demons, the time invested day and night by a mother and her three school-age children who weren’t able to work or go to school, I think somehow it might have been possible. Somehow. Anyhow.

Mommy guilt is a powerful weapon, but it’s also a tool. And I’m pretty sure if I saw my offspring levitating in bed, I’d hightail it out of there before you could say, “BOO!”

Second, my ghost-senses tingled when Ammons said she wasn’t allowed to be inhabited by demons, that she had protection. How does one come to know that, exactly? Could it have been from prior experience with spirits? If you read the story, you’ll note this wasn’t true — she ultimately was exorcised a few times by a Catholic priest.

Third, why Ammons and her children? The focus on the rental house on Carolina Street is prevalent throughout, but the owner claimed nothing like this had happened before or has since, with new tenants. It is suggested that the children played a part and in various ways. And of course this may be a case where we might never know why, but it deserves a good and thorough asking.

Now for a little of me. I won’t say I’m not a believer in present-day demons or spirits, but I will say that I haven’t ever courted first-hand knowledge. I steer clear of literature, movies and mostly even news stories about the subject. I believe Satan is alive and at work in the world, so I want to distance myself from that darkness as best I can.

I will say that the IndyStar deserves kudos for writing and running the piece and presenting it for the public to decide. Overall it was quite well done. And more than a little creepy!

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7 responses to “Indiana family: Demons, possession and exorcism, oh my!”

  1. When the family got to the hospital, her son ‘walked up the wall and did a backwards flip.They went onto tell me that a little boy had just walked, glided, backwards up a wall and flipped over to land on his feet.) The child had a rare case of LRS, ( Lionel Richie syndrome ) ooh what a feeling when I’m dancing on the ceiling!!!!

  2. The story is a fascinating mess; I do appreciate the “Just the facts, ma’am” approach that the “Indianapolis Star” used in this story, but there are so many elements that aren’t covered.

    The family doesn’t seem to be Catholic, so why did they end up going to a Catholic priest – or rather, why did the hospital chaplain look for a Catholic priest on their behalf? Are they linked to any local church – it seems that they were relying on a combination of whatever denominational background they may have had, plus a heavy dose of folk religion and plain superstition. There is a mention that they called around local churches, but not that they went to their own church: is that because they don’t have one?

    Also, some things mentioned in the story with Fr. Maginot made me wonder: he sounds rather like an enthusiastic amateur than a trained exorcist (there was a conference on exorcism held by the USCCB back in 2010 but I have no idea if anyone from the Diocese of Gary attended); things such as “look it up on the Internet” make me wince – the revised 1998 Rite of Exorcism (De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam) was published in a Latin version and I haven’t been able to find an English translation online (though there is an Italian one), as well as the mention of “A woman who assisted Maginot with some of the exorcisms” – what?

    According to the Code of Canon Law:
    Can. 1172 §1. No one can perform exorcisms legitimately upon the possessed unless he has obtained special and express permission from the local ordinary.

    §2. The local ordinary is to give this permission only to a presbyter who has piety, knowledge, prudence, and integrity of life.

    Only a priest can conduct an exorcism, and lay assistance (is she a laywoman? we have nothing to tell us who she was or what her qualifications are) is not permitted in performing exorcisms. Reading the “back up plan” is even more alarming, and makes me wonder if this woman was one of the spiritualists or psychics or clairvoyants the family had previously consulted, which is very much against Catholic practice and canon law.

    So I’m glad the family seems to have sorted out their problems, prayer is never a bad thing and it’s no harm to have your house blessed, but there are so many points leaving me wanting to know more in this story!

    • I agree. Also, it comes out a day after the story that the Ghost Adv. person has purchased the house. When exactly did he know about this? You can’t just plunk down 35k and buy a house in 24 hours. Also, why did the child have to hold his grandmother’s hands as he scaled the walls backwards. If it was truly supernatural, there was no need to hang on to grandma. Also, I agree, the “look up the name on the internet” was absurd.

      I try to keep an open mind, but as you say, there are a lot of really big errors in this story that results in some serious credibility issues.

  3. As a story, I also liked the straight-forward approach — no ridiculing anyone for their beliefs or any other such thing. But perhaps the real “why” question is, why report this story at all? I mean, if this was my family, I certainly wouldn’t want it publicized that we were dealing with demons. So how did the reporter find it? And why is it considered news? I mean, it doesn’t seem to effect anyone else and their life seems to have returned to normal. It’s bizarre, of course, but does the bizarre always need to be covered as news?

  4. I do find it a very strange story as well, and I’m glad you are asking some of these questions. It all reminds me of The Amityville Horror which kept me, as a junior high student, sleeping with the lights on while / after reading that account. The movie didn’t do it justice! I could be very wrong, but it seems to me that Satan and his minions have much more important and entertaining work to do than help a boy make tracks up the wall backwards. For instance The Grammys … but I digress.

  5. Scott Peck’s “Glimpses of the Devil” and Michael Cuneo’s “American Exorcism” are the best recent books on this stuff. If you’re not a believer when you start them, you will be when you’re done. Good for the Indianapolis Star for giving the go-ahead for this story.

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