Today I’m welcoming Ryan Buell from A&E’s television series, Paranormal State. Thank you, Ryan for stopping by!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, most of your readers will probably know me as the host/star of A&E’s “Paranormal State,” a docu-drama series that ran for a successful six seasons. The show followed myself and the organization I founded (Paranormal Research Society, or PRS) and our investigations. When it comes to me, I was raised in South Carolina. I had several experiences that I believed were paranormal when I was a child. The experiences, mixed with other circumstances, made me a bit of a loner (and still am, I suppose). In high school I focused on journalism, debate, drama and broadcasting. I became the editor of my high school newspaper, and we changed up the format, which as a result saw a rise in readership from the students. In college, I continued my focused in journalism. I chose Penn State, which is 600 miles away from home. So I felt a certain freedom entering adulthood and being able to explore certain parts of me that I wasn’t able to before. One of them was paranormal investigation (which I’ll get to later). In my early years, I started an online website dedicated to online news reporting. Somehow I found myself in the middle of the Internet journalism boom, interacting with other key founders of the online journalism world. Originally I wanted to pursue filmmaking at Penn State, but I found myself bored and unchallenged. Ironically enough, through “Paranormal State” I got to pursue that side of me by executive producing the show during its later seasons, as well as directing some of the episodes. I am also a freelance journalist. On occasion, when I feel there’s a story of importance, or when I’m approached with a lead, I will report on it, as I did in 2011 during the Penn State Sandusky Child Abuse scandal.
Right now, I’ve been enjoying seclusion and a more quiet life. I travel between my home here at Penn State and South Carolina, especially in the summer, where I spend a lot of time at the family lake house. I’ve had to take a few years off for personal and medical reasons, and now that my health is improving with every month, I’m slowing weighing in on what’s next for me. I’m open to doing another show if the right idea comes along. I’ve been doing some writing, and for years I’ve been mostly finished with my first novel but never had time to push it through. So that’s one of my biggest priorities, as well as rebuilding PRS.
What is PRS and how did it get started?
Paranormal Research Society is the organization I founded in 2001. It has four research departments. As for its origin, it began with an eager teenager who was simply looking for answers. With the Internet starting to take shape, I wrote to the few paranormal groups I could find in the Pennsylvania area, but none responded. I don’t blame them. I was an 18-year-old. I did a few investigations under the guise of making them special-interest feature stories for the college paper. The following year, 2001, I transferred to Penn State’s main campus, which is one of the largest in the country. It boasted over 600 student organizations. Yet, despite Penn State’s enormity and diversity, there wasn’t a single organization remotely close to exploring the paranormal. So, during the second week of school, in a brand-new town and campus I didn’t know, I decided to try starting a group. I posted flyers. And I reserved a room in the student activities building. About four people showed up. Another walked in late, but he shared my excitement and passion, and he helped me build PRS. By our second meeting, we had 20 interested people. It’s a college town, so people came and went. It was hard work. We didn’t get to ghost hunting for at least six months. We had to create a charter, a constitution, solidify membership and then go before a committee to receive official group status. At the time I never considered taking it off campus and just making like the other groups out there. I think the challenge is what drove me. It became clear our group didn’t fit into the traditional categories that they were used to dealing with. For example, when I had to answer questions before the committee that approves new groups, they asked if our work and/or research was dangerous. I answered honestly, “yes,” explaining that there have been many instances of people being attacked or killed and police/science could not explain why. After that, I was forced to go before the Environmental Safety Department to get approved. On the form, the committee listed concerns, such as “demonic possession” and “psychic attacks.” The head of the department literally was bewildered, not knowing how to respond. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “You say this stuff happens but I can’t see what my department can do to respond to these claims of potential harm. If the purpose of your group is to enter homes with asbestos and educate them on why they need to remove it, then I’d be able to figure this out. But I have no idea how to respond to the committee’s concerns that you may put students in jeopardy due to them becoming demonically possessed.” He signed the form, which essentially meant he didn’t see us as being a risk, and we had to go back to the committee. We went again and again before the board, each time with a new problem they pointed out. I don’t believe they were trying to deny us, I think they were just confronted with new questions and conundrums that they don’t have to deal with. They’re used to clubs like the Chess Club, or Salsa Dancing Club, or Relief For Haiti. So right off the bat, we were the oddball, or rather, I was.
And it continued. PRS started receiving case requests. It was slow, but it gradually grew like clockwork. They were reaching out to us because of the Penn State name. They felt we had reliability. And then there was our first time working with the police. A student went missing on Halloween 2001, and around the start of summer, we put the police in contact with a psychic who specialized in missing persons cases. From there, the press covered it. And then, we started hosting a paranormal conference. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Church approached us for the first time, to work on a highly confidential case that would later be granted the rare rite of exorcism. It involved a Pittsburgh politician, former commissioner Bob Cranmer and his family. We kept the case a secret until just recently. In August 2014, Cranmer released a book about his haunting.
I could go on and on, but we just kept having unique events happen to us. You could say that, at times, the paranormal, in some form or another, found us.
What are your views on the paranormal? Do you believe that there are just as many good spirits as there are bad?
First, let me be clear, PRS has no official view on the paranormal. It does not defer to any one religious view. We have conducted research and performed numerous investigations, and its investigators, including myself, file opinions, but these opinions are only that of the investigators. So, my personal views are not the official views of the Paranormal Research Society, even though I am its founder and current Director.
I was raised Catholic and I am still a practicing Catholic. My personal religious views have, at times, come into conflict with my role as a paranormal investigator. To say anything else would be a lie. However, I also do not believe that the Roman Catholic faith currently has any official stance on ghosts, other than comments made by the Pope and other cardinals, bishops and priests throughout the centuries. In modern times that Church seems to take the stance that there are no ghosts, as many within the Church believes it contradicts the teachings that when we die, we are judged and enter either Heaven or Hell. There is the belief of purgatory, a sort-of in-between state some of us may go to after we die where we are processed. Some priests who have accepted the belief of the paranormal have used purgatory as a possible explanation for the existence and appearance of spiritual activity. Other priests, mostly traditional, believe all spiritual activity is either the work of the Devil or of Angels.
When I investigate, I do my best to leave my Catholic faith in the background. Instead I have formed what I believe to be a practice similar to that of a journalist and detective. Often, the two are the same, only one carries a badge and the other, a pen.
My beliefs have put my in a strange position at times. After “Paranormal State” began to air, some criticized me for being too Christian or allowing my Catholic beliefs to interfere with my investigations. On the other hand, some within the Church have criticized me for not being Catholic enough, and for allowing non-Christian practices and beliefs, such as the use of Pagan and Wiccan rituals and members and other non-Christian rites to be performed. In truth, we often conform to the clients’ religious beliefs when it comes to the end of our investigation – trying to explain and possibly remove the spirit(s).
Objectively, PRS does not perform house cleansings nor exorcisms. We assist. Personally, I have assisted in house cleansings, deliverances and formally approved rites of exorcisms. But I do so as an individual after PRS’ work is done.
I have seen things I cannot deny. I have witnessed levitations, heard voices whisper in my ear, seen apparitions, watched objects move upon command, and watched as other people have suddenly undergone drastic personality changes and speak languages unknown to them. We always have a psychologist, psychiatrist or some other member with a medical background with us to not only rule out the psychological and medical explanations, but to also document, if applicable, the lack of a natural explanation.
I believe spirits exist. How or why are beyond me. I have my theories, but no proof to back that up. Some may feel as if I am being too cynical or skeptical. Whenever I speak like this, someone who is a believer feels as if I am trying to be too political when in truth I am simply trying to be honest. We have documented these unexplained phenomena’s. But just because a table levitates, it doesn’t mean it’s a ghost. To blame it on a ghost is to project a belief, similar to that of a religious one. Now, when you add voices, apparitions and then the ghost offering to perform some sort of manifestation, similar to what happened during the Enfield Poltergeist case, then theories are formed. And traditional methods have to moved aside for more… unconventional options. Such as believing that we may be dealing with a spirit.
For almost 150 years, the practice of paranormal investigation has shown us many things. And just like with some of life’s mysteries, some famous paranormal events from a century ago have become solved, like the fairy pictures that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed to be proof positive of their existence (it later turned out the photos were a fake).
One day, perhaps, we may learn that there are rifts in gravity. Or perhaps the spirits we see are simply a rift in the space-time continuum. In other words, we are seeing people from the past and in the past, they are seeing what they believe are spirits. Who knows?
I know I’ve thrown around many different theories, but these are my beliefs. My beliefs in the possibilities that there are spirits, there are bad spirits, there may not be spirits, there may be other explanations.
When I step away, taking what I’ve seen and practiced as an investigator, and what I’ve seen through the lense of my religious faith, I currently believe in the spiritual world. Are there bad spirits? Well, there are most certainly people who have done bad things. So why should the spiritual world be any different? Just as some may believe we are the only living beings in this universe, something that seems childish and ignorant as we have discovered more and more inhabitable planets, it would also be childish to believe that there may only be human spirits. There may be ancient spirits, whom some call demons. They were never human. Perhaps there are inter-dimensional beings, as the late journalist John Keel believed when he investigated what is now known as The Mothman Prophecies case. But back to the simple question, are there good and bad spirits? All things being equal, yes. Just as there are good and bad humans. Are there more bad than good or vice-versa? Both are possible. I don’t believe anyone is beyond redemption. Choices are made. And the choice to return to the light can be attained.
We’ve all been a bad guy to someone in our lives. Perhaps we were once a bully to one person in elementary school? We broke someone’s hearts. Or we made a mistake and did something awful that hurt the ones we love. And then, later in life, we change. We learn from our mistakes. Maybe these “evil” spirits, maybe they won’t be one day? Or perhaps, they won’t change? After all, some have spent their entire living lives doing more and more horrific things, like Hitler. Who knows the answers to these questions? I cannot definitively tell anyone that one way is truer than the other, or that one belief is more superior than the other. I cannot say that Christianity is more superior than other religions, even though I am Catholic.
My investigations, I believe, have made me more tolerant. And more at peace with my own experiences, despite not having the particular kind of closure I originally sought. But my life is not over, nor is my work. Perhaps ten years from now, my beliefs will change.
It’s okay to question. To your readers, I encourage them to question the very things I’ve brought up. I encourage other investigators to do the same. Perhaps one day, we may collectively find answers. There is one thing, however, that I remember whenever I think of the subject of belief/proof and whether or not we will ever know the answers. The nature of the unknown is to remain unknown. Just as it is the nature of a lion to be a lion and what comes with it. I think the thrill is that we may never know, but it is OUR nature to never stop searching. And that, I believe, is one ultimate truth.
What was it like being the host of A&E’s “Paranormal State” and being a part of the investigative team?
This is a hard question to answer. After I founded PRS, and we started to receive notoriety on our own, we started getting inquiries from TV networks and producers about doing one show or the other. As hard as it may seem to some, my immediate desire wasn’t to do a show, although I saw the value in it. The ability to use the media platform of a TV show to inspire thought and to let others know they aren’t alone. And to give PRS a chance at becoming something bigger. Eventually, I was approached by a producer who offered to develop a show based on PRS and myself. A&E was interested and they greenlit the show. It was hard adjusting to having a team of 20-25 people following you around. Two or three cameramen, a director, sound guy, producers, various assistants to get batteries or set up lighting, etc. As I would do a case, they would light around me, film around me. They adapted around us. There was no movie set. Nothing staged. And as the show progressed, I made very clear rules for production. For example, limited contact with the clients. No contact with the psychics we brought in. And when it came to Dead Time, when I and/or my team would try to communicate with the spiritual world, production would have to back off at a specific distance. And usually only one camera man and sound guy would be allowed in the house or location. I felt these rules had justification for allowing us to do our job and leaving the environment as natural as possible, and at times I believe it paid off.
Doing the show allowed us to travel all over the country. We weren’t limited to just a 4-hour radius. It also gave us funding to improve our equipment. And bring in specialists. It gave us a major boost.
On the flip side, there is the fame element. My life literally changed on December 10th, 2007, the night the show premiered. I remember riding back home the next day and suddenly millions were talking about me, about us. We had to quickly grow thick skin. People attacked us. People wanted to get close to us because of our “fame,” and suddenly one big problem we faced was… who could we trust? Thankfully we lived in a small college town and we were mostly sheltered from the sudden onslaught of fame. But there were many times where I had to go and promote the show, which was reasonable, but I felt very uncomfortable with the public role. Being a public person. People wanting autographs or looking at me differently. As a result, I became more of a recluse. All my close friends and family know this. I enjoyed the fact that “State” was a success, but fame comes with a very heavy burden and a terrible price. It’s all about a balance. I was young when it happened. Plucked from being a simple college student to a TV star. Appearing on talk shows, my face on billboards, etc. It was neat to see, but I had major trouble dealing with the fandom. It made me more closed off.
I’m older now. I’m 33. And even though I’ve been offered other show projects, I obviously had to take time off due to health and personal reasons. I also wanted to enjoy life. And it’s been difficult. I know one day I will undoubtedly return in some form. You never leave the public eye, unfortunately. I still get approached because the show is still popular in syndication. And I’m grateful for that. Now that it’s been a few years since I retired from the show, I’ve been allowed to enjoy some privacy and pursue other things. And I’m considering and looking at some options right now.
While filming Paranormal State, were there any cases that made you think twice or did you go into full investigative mode, ready to take on anything?
Maybe I’m hard-headed but I’ve never paused or worried about a case due to it being dangerous. The more dangerous it was, the more I felt it was justified that we go in there to help them, as well as try to resolve it. That’s something that is built within me. Whether I succeed or not, I suppose time and history will tell. But no, I never thought twice.
What kind of methods do you prefer when investigating the paranormal?
Well, it all depends on the case. Each case is different. But I acknowledge that when it comes to investigating hauntings at location – such as a home or other dwelling, we do have standard techniques and then we build from there. That said, I tend to believe that the foundation for my own investigative methods go to my journalism background. The who, what, when, where, why and when it comes to the paranormal, most certainly we must ask, how. For me, you can have all the tech in the world (and it is important), but if you do not have an investigator capable of investigating with their own senses by asking questions, observing behaviors and following leads, what’s the point? So, my role is to play the journalist and lead detective. My team, such as tech, can be interpreted as the forensics side. My psychologist and other medical specialists… their role is pretty defined. They help me determine if I’m on the right track. The historian or photography experts, they are powerful resources that also help me formulate my theories.
How do you prepare yourself before going into a haunted location?
I get asked this question a lot, and usually it’s from people seeking advice on how to protect oneself. All you can do is have faith. Where that faith comes from is up to you. There are no guarantees that we can be completely protected no more than we can say that about driving on the freeway for several hours. I prepare myself by studying the clients in a basic nature. I read their initial testimonies. Thanks to my case managers, who do some leg work ahead of time, I see, on paper, their testimonies unfold and progress. I develop a game plan. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a gut feeling I’ve developed over time. I get a strong intuition of how to go in to the case. And I have made peace with the fact that once we go in to a case, all bets are off. Sometimes that happens, but more frequently the case turns out as expected. But one must always be prepared to be unprepared. Or at least come to terms with it.
What’s your most frightening experience?
I find this to be one of the most difficult questions to answer. You’d think I’d have a ton of stories. I do. And there were moments where I seriously questioned whether myself of a member of the team or a client would make it out alive before our work was over. I have been involved with many dangerous cases ranging from working with the Catholic Church on demonic cases, cases that resulted in great harm and even death to a client, working with law enforcement and even undercover work. Some of the undercover work scared me the most, but I obviously cannot go in to that. Some people see “Paranormal State” and think there’s transparency there. That that is our entire history. But it’s not. PRS has endured many hardships. We’ve had to pay a heavy price for getting involved with dangerous situations. It’s difficult to talk about because to do so means divulging information that could be hard for someone who was involved with it to read. But I will go in to one. It is a case we label “demonic” and it we were brought in, confidentially, by the Catholic Church to assist with gathering evidence to ascertain whether it met the requirements for the formal rite of exorcism. There were so many things I couldn’t explain in that case. We’d drive home thinking we all were going crazy, only all eight of us, plus other specialists the Church assembled, witnessed the same thing. And then there’s the evidence we caught. I was warned before going by three different individuals with psychic abilities, all separate from one another, that they had a strong feeling that I was going to be stabbed in the lower right side of my back. All three told me this before I left. Obviously, I found it both remarkable and a little intimidating, but what was I to do? I just had to hope it wouldn’t happen. One of the clients, who we later felt was exhibiting signs of what is defined as “possession,” said he felt the urge to attack me and it was becoming stronger as my team and I uncovered more and more evidence. We assigned investigators to keep an eye on him. Yet, despite that, he got extraordinarily close to me with a knife, approaching me from behind. If it wasn’t for one person taking quick action, it may have happened. We saw a black shadowy mass, like a black cloud, materialize and move around. Blood materialized on the walls and two separate forensics teams could not find a natural explanation for it. The first team thought it was something other than blood. But they couldn’t determine it. The second team, more advanced, determined it was blood. The scariest moment for me came the day before we were scheduled to return to the case. I started having these weird “moments,” where I’d see “666” everywhere. It was almost comical. I thought that I was clearly matrixing. When I got to my home in the evening, the house was cold, and the thermo-stat read “66.6” degrees. What followed is so over-the-top it seems so unlikely to be true, but it happened. To sum it all up, I was given a warning. I sat at my computer, and was chatting with an investigator, when a poster ripped and flew off the wall, down to the floor. That obviously got my attention. I told my investigator, and we both tried to laugh it off. I thought to myself, “well, if it happens to another poster, then that’s beyond chance in my books.” Not one second after I thought that, a second poster tore from the wall. I told my investigator what had happened, then walked away from the computer. I pulled out some of the tech, and every thermal device read 66.6 degrees. I tried making a call, but no one would answer. And then… I felt punched in the stomach. Then in the back. Then in the stomach again. I ran upstairs, and as I did, it felt as if there were several others behind me because of the way the wooden stairs shook. You’d think I’d run out the front door. Instead, I locked myself in the bathroom. It was clear panic. Thankfully, the investigator I was talking to online, took my silence as cause for concern, and within 15 minutes, a few investigators arrived at my house. This was my first time behind physically assaulted by an unseen force. I have no explanation for it. It wasn’t the scariest moment of that case, and I’ve since dealt with other more bizarre incidents where this one almost seems elementary, but in terms of memory… it was a moment where I had felt my life had turned upside down and I considered for a moment that perhaps I was going to deep into territory I shouldn’t be in. After all, why was the Catholic Church calling in a 22-year-old? Ultimately it didn’t deter me. I’m not trying to sound brave. I had a strong team around me. I felt safe, and this case needed us. Now, I look back and smile.
What’s next for Ryan Buell?
I wish I knew. I’ve asked that question for years. ? I had to take some time off. I didn’t realize it would have to be this long. It was for various reasons. Health and personal. After investigating so many cases for so long, I needed a break. I’m working on two books, and really, I’m trying to return to where I left off. I’ve been entertaining the idea of doing another show, and I’ve just been seeing what’s out there, and I am brutally honest. If I don’t feel passionate about it, I won’t do it. Right now, I’m open. Open to exploring. I guess the short answer is, I have a few things, but also, I don’t know. And it’s both terrifying and exciting.
Any words of advice for fellow paranormal investigators/enthusiasts?
Yeah. Be patient. I know you want to go out there and start right away, but you need to do some home work. Study. Read books. Not just the modern stuff, but some of the older research that came before us from some very reputable and respected investigators. And, take breaks. You need to remember to live. Most investigators who delve in to this full-time rarely make it far. There’s an insanity into this world. Take breaks, walk away and enjoy your life. Family, friends. After all, what’s the point of living if all we do is focus on the dead? And finally, as I said, the nature of the unknown is to remain unknown, so you’re never going to find all the answers. You may find some, and it may be personal revelations. The journey is more important than the end or the start. So, learn (I don’t care how old or how long you’ve been doing it, I still consider myself a student of the paranormal), be patient, don’t forget to live and try to follow your moral compass when doing this. Morals and ethics are important. It may take time to figure it out, and you’ll make mistakes, and that’s ok.
Ryan Buell’s Links:
Website: The PRS Bureau
Facebook: Ryan D. Buell