Lacie Wagoner, left, Najoni Demmer started F.L.I.P.S. to investigate experiences like the ones they had when they were children and to help others. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Archived Story

They’re ready to believe you

Published 1:07pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Paranormal investigators here to help

As a girl, Najoni Demmer experienced things she couldn’t explain. Growing up in an old home where the founder of Steele County once lived, she’d wake up to see figures of what she believes were spirits.

This photo is from an investigation of Sweet’s Hotel in LeRoy by the Female Lead Investigative Paranormal Society. Team members claim they caught an ectoplasm or mist in front of an investigator on the stairs. -- Photo provided by F.L.I.P.S.

“I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified, but I couldn’t scream,” she said. “I would see people standing at the edge of my bed.”

Lacie Wagoner also experienced unexplained things. As a child, she says she and a relative played with the spirits of little boys.

“We would play with them,” she said. “Honestly, we didn’t think anything of it. My parents thought we had imaginary friends.”

For years, it was difficult to admit what they believe happened, but now the two are out to help people with similar experiences.

Demmer and Wagoner are the founders of the Austin-based Female Lead Investigative Paranormal Society (F.L.I.P.S.), a group that investigates what they believe are spirits or ghosts in homes, businesses and historic places.

Aside from one male member, the group is all women, something the group takes pride in.

“You don’t see a lot of females in the field at all,” Demmer said.

Click here for F.L.I.P.’s ‘eye-opening investigation’

‘Our own group’

In 2009, Wagoner and Demmer started working at Walmart together and quickly became friends.

The two had talked about starting a paranormal investigative group, but the idea didn’t take off until they moved in together.

“When we moved in together, the opportunity presented itself for us to have a headquarters and start forming a group,” Demmer said.

The house proved to be more than a headquarters; it was also a site for practice.

The night Wagoner moved into the in southwest Austin home, she said she heard banging and footsteps in a closet and they’d find the door open. She also said she heard growling and captured EVPs — electronic voice phenomenon.

“I don’t freak out now, but at the time, I was freaking out, worrying about my daughter,” Wagoner said.

Along with their experiences in the home, the two watched shows like “Ghost Hunters,” and they learned they have similar beliefs in the paranormal.

“We just decided to form our own group,” Demmer said.

It’s more complex than simply the belief in the paranormal: Their similarities include investigating methods and goals for the group. For Wagoner and Demmer, a key goal is to help people, whether it is through an investigation, performing a cleansing or even talking with people about their experiences.

“We wanted to be able to help families that needed us,” Demmer said. “That’s the most important part, especially when there are little kids.”

Both share a passion for helping children cope with potential paranormal experiences, largely due to their own childhoods.

Investigations

So far, the group has done eight investigations, starting with the Paramount Theatre. They’ve also investigated Sweet’s Hotel in LeRoy, the Old Hollis Inn in Marengo, Iowa, and homes and businesses.

The process is similar to how it’s done on shows like “Ghost Hunters.” The crew first goes in and talks to the home or business owner to learn about what has gone on in the building. They try to limit how much of the history they know of beforehand, so it doesn’t dictate their findings.

One of the most common things people deal with are noises or uneasy feelings, and Wagoner said the homes they’ve investigated tend to include more bad experiences, while businesses just have activity.

After the initial walkthrough of a site, they set up cameras and equipment before going dark to investigate. The crew uses a variety of gear like different kinds of cameras, voice recorders, and electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors.

An investigation can last from a few hours to an entire night, depending on the results.

They try to disprove claims where they can. For example, high EMF readings can be caused by wiring, and that can cause uneasy feelings and even cause people to feel ill.

At the Paramount Theatre, the investigators say they caught an EVP of what sounds like a billiards party — the theater was once a bar. Wagoner described the Paramount as a residual haunting, which is just a playback of a past and not an intimidating type of spirit.

Demmer and Wagoner claim they’ve already encountered negative spirits. In one home, a little girl told them about bad things she’d experienced, and she kept saying an unusual name. Demmer said she did some research and found someone by that name living in Austin on an old census.

When they encounter a negative spirit, the group performs a spiritual cleansing, where they go room-to-room burning sage, spreading salt and one member recites the Lord’s Prayer in the hopes of removing any evil spirit.

For the most part, Demmer said they’ve had good luck with cleansings, as most of the activity has either stopped or slowed afterward.

Skeptics

Wagoner and Demmer understand many people are skeptical when it comes to the paranormal.

Demmer’s family is open to the idea of ghosts, as her mother and other family members claim to have had paranormal experiences or have experimented with investigations or séances. Many of Wagoner’s relatives are more skeptical, but she said some have opened up to it more recently.

Religious people can tend to be skeptics, but the investigators argue the paranormal and a belief in God can go hand-in-hand.

“I tell people if you can believe in God and the devil and angels and demons, why can’t you believe in entities or life after this?” Wagoner said. “With what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced, there is no way I can tell people that there is not another side.”

“We are religious people,” Demmer added. “We just happen to believe that there’s something more. If you believe in heaven and hell and angels and demons, how can you not believe that there’s spirits, too? Because there are demons that come back, that come to earth and that are here right now.”

Even though there will always be skeptics, Wagoner and Demmer said the media and TV shows have shed more light on the topic.

“That has opened up so many doors for the paranormal,” Demmer said.

Until recently, Wagoner said, she felt like she couldn’t talk about her experiences unless someone else brought it up first.

Today, Wagoner thinks a belief in the paranormal is more accepted than it ever has been, which the two said is a good thing, especially for children who have paranormal experiences.

“We were the kids that grew up without being helped, without knowing what’s going on,” Demmer said, adding that if children are experiencing things and have questions, the group can help guide them through it. “We went through it too when we were kid.”

For people experiencing something that may be paranormal, the F.L.I.P.S. crew has a message: They are here to help, and the same things happen to other people. Wagoner and Demmer urged anyone to contact them if they have any questions.

“It is OK, and those people should feel free to reach out and ask for help,” Demmer said.

“Don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you,” Wagoner added.

Demmer and Wagoner both hope F.L.I.P.S. has a bright future, and they’d like to take it to a professional level, which would mean more technology, more equipment and ways to cover travel expenses.

What’s in F.L.I.P.S.’s ghost-hunting tool bag?

(Numbers in parentheses indicate how many the team has)

“Spirits/entities live on a different plane than we do. They also run on different wave-lengths. That is why we don’t usually see or hear them, which is why we use a ghost box, digital recorder and cameras.”

— Lacie Wagoner, F.L.I.P.S.

•Digital video recorder (1) , digital camcorders (3)

•Ghost box (2) — This device runs backwards through stations — changing stations at around four times a second — which can help entities respond. If the stations are running backwards, it is believed words or sentences can be heard.

•Digital voice recorder (6) — Used to record possible EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) or to back-up any sounds or noises heard with the naked ear.

•Tape recorder (2) — Used for the same reason as digital recorders, but sometimes things are caught on tape that may not show up on digital.

•Digital camera (3), Polaroid camera (1), 35mm camera (2) — Used to catch pictures of spirits, mists, ectoplasms or orbs. The team uses different types of cameras because the belief is certain things will only show up on a certain camera.

•Mini mag-lite (6) — Used as a flashlight when the team “goes dark” and for “flashlight conversations” with entities.

•Walkie-talkies (3) — Used for communication between investigators.

•Red (1), blue (3) and green (3) laser star pens — When used or set on a tripod, they project a 3-D laser pattern on a surface, so if something were to pass in front of it, it can be seen.

•IR camera (4) — It’s an infrared camera, which are the same cameras used for security.

•Full spectrum camcorder (1) — A normal digital camera has a CCD (or CMOS) sensor that is only allowed to “see” the visible light spectrum, up to about 750nm. The near Infrared (IR) range, about 750nm-1200nm, is mostly blocked out by an internal IR-cut filter inside the camera lens. By removing the IR-cut filter, the camera’s sensor (its “eye”) is allowed to see a broader spectrum beyond what the human eye can see.

•Mel meter (1) — A dual purpose combination unit that measures both EMF (electromagnetic field) and temperature simultaneously. ‘EMF is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects as high frequency waves given off by electrical devices, power lines and appliances.

•Motion sensor (5)

•K2 meter (1) — reads EMFs


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