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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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