Busted Halo
September 29th, 2008

Busted: Ryan Buell

Paranormal State's investigator talks about God, Catholicism and the spirit world

Ryan Buell (photo credit: A&E/Karolina Wojtasik)

Ryan Buell (photo credit: A&E/Karolina Wojtasik)

Channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon a show I hadn’t seen before: A&E’s docudrama series Paranormal State.

All right, I thought. It’s kind of like the Sci Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters, and a little like The Travel Channel’s Most Haunted. I like it.

But it was really the show’s 26-year-old star, Ryan Buell, who caught my attention. I watched as he made the sign of the cross, prayed, invited a priest to bless the house, and gave its owners a couple of blessed medallions. The show’s religious turn kept me fixed in my seat.

Is he for real? I asked myself. To find out, I tracked him down and spent some time chatting over the phone.

The Birth of Paranormal State
“Can you hold on a sec?”

It was two in the afternoon and Ryan Buell was still in his pajamas, washing the spoon he used to make his coffee. It had been a late night of paranormal investigation.

He explained that what would become his life’s work had its genesis in the 1990s. He was in pajamas, buried in blankets on the bottom bunk of his childhood room in Sumter, S.C. His step-father, a member of the Air Force, was in Iraq for the first Gulf War and his mother had gone to bed for the night. As he lay awake, he saw someone standing in his doorway.

“No one can grin that way humanly,” Buell told me. “Its face was wide. Not like a football head, like [Nickelodeon’s] Arnold, or anything, but wider than normal.” Buell screamed, and his mom came to see what was up.

“She was tired, she was stressed out,” he reported. “This was not the time to be claiming you have a monster hiding underneath your bed, you know what I mean? When she left, I didn’t want to turn away, but at the same time, I didn’t want to look right into the doorway. Staring at the footboard, I said, ‘I’m not looking, I’m not looking, I’m not looking.’ And that’s when all of a sudden the thing rose up from the foot of my bed.”

Buell got a spanking for screaming again, and avoided his bedroom for as long as he could.

“I was young,” Buell said. “I’m not sure if it was real or imagined. It certainly looked real, and the entire experience felt real.”

Fear and Fascination
That fear fostered a longtime fascination with things he can’t explain. During his sophomore year at Penn State, he started the Paranormal Research Society, or PRS, a group of college students and alumni that travels nationwide to investigate claims of paranormal activity.

In 2001, a Penn State student went missing and PRS introduced law enforcement officers to a psychic who offered to help in the investigation. Potential clients began calling soon after, followed by television producers. Buell eventually accepted A&E’s offer to build a series around the group, and Paranormal State’s premiere aired in December 2007, drawing 2.5 million viewers. Its second season finale airs on September 29.

Each episode of Paranormal State features a different client: a bar owner whose wine glasses won’t stay shelved; a young woman whose barn houses black mists; and a couple whose religious relics are burned without explanation.

Skeptic? You aren’t alone. Most people have to wonder whether some of the phenomena is fabricated by clients, but the show is so entertaining I rarely miss an episode.

Talking with Buell and some of his cohorts, it’s clear that he takes each case seriously, on or off camera. Each of the cases is unique, Buell told me, as is the team’s response to it. Buell’s reason for pursuing a paranormal line of work has always remained the same.

“There’s something real happening to these people, and someone needs to deal with it,” Buell said to me.

Science Can’t Explain Everything
“There are no official qualifications for being a paranormal investigator,” Buell said. “I’ve spent the last ten years training myself, working with highly regarded professionals in both the paranormal community and in other professions, [including] Catholic exorcists, law enforcement [and] psychologists, to become a well-rounded individual.”

Based on his childhood experience, Buell understands whether the phenomena are paranormal or psychological, the experience takes a physical or mental toll. He also knows that people are generally more likely to be judged than believed. His goal is to listen without judging, in order to try to determine whether the paranormal is involved.

“In PRS, we’ve developed a six month long training program that covers everything from in-class education to on-site training,” he explained. “They learn about research methods, religious perspectives, cultural perspectives and the history of paranormal research so they get an understanding of the diverse field.”

Of course, there are the skeptics who don’t take him seriously.

“Paranormal investigators can’t prove that any of this stuff is real,” he said. “So? People are forgetting that science can’t explain everything.”

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The Author : Arleen Spenceley
Arleen Spenceley is a freelance writer from the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Ashly

    See, this is what I hate about discussions like this. There are fewer open-minded people out there than there are people who are just pure skeptics who refuse to believe something that cannot be explained. There are things that can’t be explained and rather than accepting that there are things out there that can’t be explained, people try to explain it away using religion. How do you think God feels about that? People close their minds to what they don’t want to believe or even accept. Yes, God has power over everything but the devil has his own little tricks he used to deceive or influence.

    I applaud what Ryan is doin’ and I do believe that there are things out there that simply cannot be explained. I personally haven’t seen anything paranormal but I have experienced things. Ryan is doing what he believes God has chosen for his path. And no one can say that He hasn’t. No one knows what paths that God chooses for each one of us except Him. I encourage Ryan to do what he loves and that may indeed be the path that was chosen for him. And Ryan, don’t let anyone push you down or let the criticism get to you. I myself dont know if this is what God meant for you, no one does, but in my heart I believe that it is. God bless you Ryan!

  • Teresa

    Ruby, the Catholic Church does not teach that unbaptised babies go to hell or that non Catholics do too. The Catholic Church clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit moves in other faiths and Christian denominations and as for babies, the Church invites us to rely on the mercy of God as opposed to look for damnation.

  • Ruby

    Sorry sent before I was done) I was saying you pray to Jesus’ mother Mary and you call her the Virgin Mary, she did not remain a virgin for the rest of her entire life! She married Joseph and toogether they had children, James,Joses,Simon,Judas…It seems like the catholic church has become as stiff necked, hard hearted and unwilling to change as the wicked Sadducees & Pharisees.The catholic church critisizes other Christians,professing that they will all go to hell unless they are catholic. How can you believe that a baby that passes away before being baptised will get a one way trip to hell? There is nothing purer on Earth than a newborn child whose spirit has just come from the face of God.IT IS A SIN TO PROFESS that a baby is anything but pure, just beyond the veil. Good people who love and serve one another will be judged according to their works.WE ARE ALL GODS CHILDREN. Peace & Love and may Heavenly Fathers blessings be with you.

  • Ruby

    OH MY GOSH… What? You catholics like to read Matthew 16:15-19 all wrong. Jesus was addressing the testimony and faith that Peter just spoke of in answer to the question that the Lord had asked:”He saith unto them,but whom say ye that I AM?(KJV Now at this point you have to be a little more thoughtful about ALL of the Savior’s teachings, not just picking and choosing and taking scripture out of context. No where in the scriptures does it say the word catholic.Jeez know your churches own history,i.e. relic worship, SELLING for money space in heaven,the INQUISITION and all of the bad nasty evil coruption perpitrated by your church from the begining to present.(child molesting)The Lord did not say the catholic church would be established by Peter and then later be venorated him self and his supposed bodily remains. In the same scripture it says “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It seems that that which is hell and from hell have had influence in and through this church from the time it became a corruption of Jesus Christ’s true message. Even all the regalia and pagentry, gold medalions and riches the catholic church displays is so opposite of the Shepherd, the humble,loving Jesus Christ. How do you square yourselves with the commandment not to pray to or worship idols and yet you do. You pray to and worship Jesus’ mother Mary and you believe that she remained a

  • Paula

    It is amazing to me how Catholics (myself being a cradle Catholic, now recovered) question the spirit world when all of the “Christ” story is based on the supernatural and paranormal! What a contradiction! And then this bit:

    “Making use of someone who is frequently in communication with the ‘spirit world’ is extremely dangerous,” said Fr. Francis Tiso, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The only preternatural voice that the people of God are to listen to is the voice of God. Other voices can be deceptive.”

    Has this priest not read the Bible? How many times were people visited by images ‘angels’,’saints’, the Virgin Mary, dead relatives?

    What a load of crap and double speak.

    I do think the spirit world exists…but we still do not have substantiated, scientific proof or it nor God.

  • Alexis

    Okay so I have been watching this show for awhile now, but I never really heard Ryan explain anything about what scared him so much as a child. I finally found this website and I am amazed. I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and lived in a 167 year old house. My mom has told me stories about how when I was younger I used to run screaming through the huge three story house for the reason that there was a shadow man following me. Now we have had many mediums come to our house, that couldn’t get past the front hallway stairs before they would walk out of the house and state,”I won’t go any further. There is something in that house and I will not experience it.” Now I don’t really remember to much about this weird man, but that face, I will forever be haunted by that Freaking face. The man was tall about 5’6 and was composed of complete shadow, wide eyes, and god the most huge and inhuman smile ever. I moved out of the house when I was seven and haven’t seen the shadow since but every so often I get the most sickening feeling I am being watched. I thought I was crazy for the longest time,but now I know I’m not the only one who has seen this thing or something like it. Believe me or not I am still terrified of this being.

  • Jeremy F

    To Kathryn who wrote on 01/14/2011:
    That was a well-written reply (other than the few typos – yes, I’ll be that guy ;) to fit this well-written article. I was raised Catholic myself, and though I have some contention with the Church’s dogma, I do have my faith. Recently I’ve become fascinated with the paranormal, when I usually focus on reading news articles or history books, and I’ve been wondering if my curiosity is going to lead me into getting something I wished for but don’t really want. I’m not toying with black magic, witchcraft or anything like that (and never would), but I have been reading about Catholic exorcisms (am about to read Michelle Remembers) due to curiosity. I’ve never had a paranormal experience before, and I’m guessing I wouldn’t want one either – I just enjoy spooking myself around Halloween. If people like Mr. Buell and Father Bailey are helping people, then it is something to be commended, whether we are skeptics or not.

  • nathan

    growing up with a father as a preacher and an uncle who is an ordained minister of the free will baptist and non denominational settings,i have come to know the bible fairly well..its a constant battle between good and evil the devil constantly works against christians..there are people in this world who work for satan he has them in his grasp they are on the path to hell and they completly turn from god in there everday life,to were as christian we put our faith in God the devil uses his followers to attach us hard and to try and diseve us into hell some fall accordingly..In the bible it does tell of stories about witch craft and demons the story were the rose the inturpiter from the grave and it was not him but a demon..it also says in the king james version that when we die we will be place ungder Gods boosom until his second coming were we will all be judged..there are alot of false prophets out there under satans command who will try and devieve us from the truth and who knows the bible better than anyone on earth the devil he knows it just as well as god..he knows how to corrupt the words to make a message seem completly different that what it is making it convincing people who fall ignorant to Gods word will fall for it.Also stating study to show thy self approved is more to me as study gods word as protection against evil if you know God word his word then your more unlickly to fall for his diception of the word. As far as ghost and stuff i beleive there are things out there deomons and what not to work against your walk with christ but if you read your bible well enough God heaves a warning to remain igonorant of it,because it is not of him but the works of the deciever and i personally think people who chase after it are walking on very dangerous ground and may be judged for that im really not sure…I have had things happen to me in my life that are unexplainable and sometimes frightning but becasue study Gods word i know not to pay no mind to it and not to let it scare me and i say in the name of jesus chist and god be gone you worker of iniquity you have no place here get out satan i seem to have no problems although christians again are attacked the hardest cause the devil wants our souls and will do anything to get them including watering the paranormal seed that has been planted…Therfore in my opinion i think all these investigaters need to take God warning serioiusly no spirit is a good one only the deciever workin against you

  • g levy

    I am a catholic a serious one. I’ve been oppressesby an evil spirit.I. need ryans help if he is to claiim who he is I’m not interested in being on tv I need help desperatly.

  • Andrée Gagnon

    Dear Ryan Am a great fan of you because i believe in you.i see ghost since am young.I can’t wait to see the next show.Don’t stop the work your doing cause you do it well.Please pray for me thank you.

  • Trevor

    nothing can fail to be itself

  • Janiene

    I love Ryan so much and then after I read this article I almost cried :( I just wanted to track him just like the lady that wrote the article & give him a BIG hug <3

  • Kathryn

    Dear me… so much arguing over something so… well, just so.
    I’m not going to bother with arguing over everyone’s opinions because they’re your opinions and they deviate from my own, but I will say this.
    God is real, and I say this not as a Catholic or a mortal person, but as someone who cannot – with good, or bad, faith – say He doesn’t.
    Ghosts, spirits that are trapped and haven’t passed on, are real – this I know to be true because I’ve lived with them since I was young. I was christened Roman Catholic into a staunchly Catholic family and so I know all the doctrine that goes with the R.C and I also know that not all of it’s true. Some of it is just embelished, some of it is a load of crock. But the basics, the base of Christianity isn’t. Two thousand years is a long time for a game of chinese whispers to have been played and it’s no surprise that some things are twisted and others fabricated. Everyone who say that the Bible is the word of God forgets one thing – God Himself did not travel down to Earth one day and write the book. He used man to write it for Him and we all know that man can inadvertently alter and distort things on occasion.
    But, I digress.
    Ryan’s story differs to my own in ways but ultimately the premise behind it is the same: young child + creepy spirit thing = not good outcome.
    I personally think that Ryan has some psychic ability which I think he uses to some degree – it would explain a couple of things that I myself am curious about.
    The use of Psychics and Religion in conjunction isn’t bad, it’s a damn smart thing to do. Psychics are essentially part of the spiritual world in that they can receive and broadcast in that realm which the majority of people can’t, and then Religion can give strength, faith and will to strengthen a Psychic.
    Ultimately, what Ryan does is beneficial to people, to real people, and he does it with my blessing and with that of God I’m sure – if he didn’t have God’s blessing then his prayers wouldn’t work and the blessed medals would have no effect. He doesn’t care for social convention and such, all he cares about is helping and he does this using whatever resources he has available to him.
    I commemorate him for what he does and I hope he continues to do so because he’s bloody brilliant! Simple as. :)

  • William Grogan

    I like the comments here that God is not of a specific religion, that we can’t possibly ever fathom His wisdom and love, that we don’t know what lies beyond this life, that the Bible, Koran, Torah, or any other religious book may have been inspired by God but definitely written by man and therefore open to all kinds of interpretations, misinterpretations, and misrepresentations to serve the needs of some people against others. Oh what we don’t know but are destined to find out at the end of earthly life.

  • Janet

    What bothers me is the babies and children ghosts. Why are they earthbound? They are innocent and should go straight to heaven not be stuck here. Can anyone explain?

  • Karen

    I think a big picture here is that there is an almost inordinate amount of shows on the paranormal on TV right now. While I disagree with the majority of how they go about their “ghost hunting”, or as in fictional shows like “Supernatural”, present the supernatural, we have a society where we can at least talk about it now. Many churches have, and still do, cut out the talk of the spiritual realm, like they don’t talk or teach much on the Holy Spirit. These shows open up the dialogue, because obviously, they’re THERE. Whatever it is that people are encountering, lives are being disrupted and I think we need to learn the appropriate way to handle them. If the church had been more open to continuing this dialogue, perhaps we wouldn’t find ourselves in the situation we’re in. The Catholic church is the only one that consistently still does. While I’m not Catholic, (I’m Christian) I appreciate that church’s efforts. I would agree that Biblically we’re told that these entities are primarily demonic, if not all demonic (they are very clever imitators with the intent to deceive) (1 Tim. 4:1, for example). But at least we can explore this area together without fear of being judged, as Ryan says. I like that he has brought the authority of Jesus Christ into play. On another more “rogue” ghost hunting show, I saw on a recent episode how the head of the team brought in a Catholic priest. The dialogue is open to discussion. Although he doesn’t fully agree with the priest, something has happened where has heard what this man said and has invited him back. Things like this generally don’t happen overnight.

  • Torres

    For all Christians out there who watch and believe in Ryan’s work like we do, I want to make a plea: LET US KEEP RYAN AND HIS TEAM IN PRAYER THAT GOD WILL PROTECT THEM ALWAYS! I agree that the only voice we should listen to and communicate with is God’s. Let us not be fooled or mislead by those who mean to do us all harm. The Bible warns us to test the spirits and not be lead astray. Jesus Christ is Lord of all! May God bless you all and bring you peace in this life. Amen.

  • tianna

    Well, don.. I am sorry to hear that your wife doesn’t agree with you watching shows about paranormal phenomenon.. Hopefully she will get over that.

  • tianna

    well, thanks nicole. that makes me feel much better. finally nobody comments on other opinions, and disagreeing, aswell as fighting. so childish.

  • Don

    Good point. Religion is what my spouse was using against me in saying it wasn’t right. So, I researched the very religion being used against me.

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