Paranormal group enters 'spiritual battlefield'
A large wooden crucifix lies on a bed to protect the people gathered around it. Ghost detector meters on the floor tell them if they need protection.
"Is there anyone here with us?" paranormal investigator Sue Brimmer asks into the darkness. "Is there anyone trapped here?"
"Can you come over and light those lights for us?" Brimmer asks. "Let us know you're here."
In the dead quiet, medium Crystal Pavis speaks: "The spirit in the closet said stop, you're making him mad."
The two are members of the East Coast Angels, a group of eight local people who believe they can use paranormal research to detect spirits and determine whether a house is haunted. Each investigation starts and ends with a prayer.
Director Michael "Sal" Salerno of East Lyme says, "When you get into these situations you're entering into a spiritual battlefield."
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On a chilly Saturday night earlier this month, the East Coast Angels set up for an investigation at a house in rural Colchester.
The house was built on farmland almost 10 years ago. When the homeowners, who asked to remain unidentified, put up the "for sale" sign about a year ago, they say they started noticing unusual things.
Their 6-year-old child was talking to an imaginary friend whom she called Rosie. When the child began having full conversations with Rosie under her bed, it made the child's mother feel uneasy.
"Ever since then, things got worse," she says.
East Coast Angels investigators believe an inhuman spirit was masking itself as the child's friend, in order to gain trust with the family. They say it is common for this "type of evil spirit" to portray itself as a small child.
The husband says he has seen black shadows over his bed, heard music coming from nowhere and was hearing loud bangs and stomping in the hallway to the master bedroom, always around 3 a.m.
The family heard about East Coast Angels from a friend, which is how most cases start, through referrals.
"It's so sad that we have a beautiful home and we don't feel comfortable in it," the wife says.
"Watching it on television is one thing, but experiencing it is another," adds her husband.
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Salerno says most paranormal investigators get into the field because they've been haunted themselves.
Things started differently for him. He says he had never encountered any ghosts before. He was brought up in the Episcopal church but says he didn't start as a "man of true faith" until about three and a half years ago, when he had an accident. He contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and, he says, had a "close call with death."
While recuperating he started watching the television show "A Haunting" on the Discovery Channel.
"I said to my wife, 'That's what I'm supposed to be doing: helping people with hauntings,'" Salerno says. "I felt with my newfound faith that I could help make a difference in the lives of people experiencing paranormal activity."
He started researching paranormal activity. He was accepted as an investigator in a local paranormal group, but first, he says, he needed to face his fear.
On his way home one night from his full-time job as an electrician, he says, he stopped at a secluded cemetery around 11 p.m. and stayed there with his flashlight, audio recorder and video recorder. He said some prayers and conducted his own investigation.
"I thought, if I'm not supposed to do this, God will let me know," Salerno says. "I realized that I wasn't afraid of the supernatural. I was more afraid of being attacked by an animal."
Salerno hasn't studied in a seminary. He taught himself about religion online. He started East Coast Angels in 2009 with his friend Brimmer, who works as a Realtor in Niantic and lives in Salem.
The other members of the team are people who have trained in paranormal research and Pavis, the medium. Pavis says she has been able to see ghosts since she was a little girl. Since first joining a paranormal group in 2003, she says, she has been able to strengthen her "gift" of being able to hear and sense a spiritual presence.
East Coast Angels does not get paid by its clients, they say, although some provide donations the group uses for travel expenses or to buy new equipment.
Salerno says the goal is not to get caught up with capturing audio or visual evidence of a spiritual existence. If the clients are "not comfortable when I leave, then I'm not done yet," he said.
One of the group's goals is to conduct an investigation at the Norwich Hospital property.
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At 12:28 a.m., just before all the lights are turned off, Salerno gives last-minute instructions.
"Don't go anywhere alone. Stay together," he says. "If anyone starts to feel sick, let us know. If anyone gets scared, calmly walk out of the house."
Moving boxes piled up around the living room and on top of the kitchen counters conceal some of the infrared cameras and other devices set up to capture paranormal activity.
The investigators break up into groups. With flashlights in hand they disperse to conduct electronic voice phenomenon sessions, which Brimmer says is like interviewing the spirits.
Most of the ghost hunting tools are available in a hardware store or on the Internet. K-II meters can measure magnetic fields, and paranormal investigators believe they can pick up a spirit's electrical energy. They also use digital audio recorders and infrared cameras.
Investigators take turns asking questions. They pause between questions in case the spirit responds, as indicated by the K-II meter flashing or audio being recorded.
"It's very exciting when the thing lights up. It's like an adrenaline rush," Brimmer says.
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Standing in the master bedroom of the Colchester house with a small group, holding a wooden crucifix in one hand and holy water in the other, Salerno says a prayer to Saint Michael in Latin. He then asks God to bring the evil entity to the room.
"In the name of Jesus Christ, give us a non-lethal, non-violent sign of your presence," Salerno says.
After no response, Salerno asks differently.
"In the name of Jesus Christ, what is your nature?"
Pavis, the medium, reports that the spirit is in the hallway and it has turned into a dog. Salerno says that in the symbolism of demonology, a spirit that takes the form of a dog is a spirit of lust.
He reaches down to his audio player and plays "Ave Maria" to get a reaction from the spirit. Pavis says the dog has turned into a man with horns and is covering its ears.
After investigators bless the hallway with holy salt and water, Salerno says a prayer and asks God to remove the evil presence from the house. Salerno says the meter on the floor isn't flickering as much and the medium reports that the spirit has left.
"I think tonight was very successful. Is it over? We don't know just yet," Salerno says.
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Days later, the homeowners say they are still experiencing unnatural phenomena. The East Coast Angels team goes back for a "sub-fumigation" of the house, which Salerno describes as a minor form of exorcism.
The homeowners say it's been quiet ever since.
"We're actually sleeping since then without the lights on," the wife says. "It's like the weight is off your shoulders and you feel like something is completed."
The family says they were overwhelmed by Salerno and his team.
"Satisfied is putting it lightly. We are just elated. They taught us a lot and brought us closer to the church. Turned things around for us," the wife says.
The house is still up for sale.
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