Vessels of Concealment PT4
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.