It's difficult, if not impossible, to separate the subject of a story from its journalistic merits. You can try, of course. You can look for proper attribution and treatment, context and clarity. Fairness.
But when your head still can't get around the topic by the story's end, something still might be missing.
In this case, I suppose it's the why. And I'll explain why in just a bit.
The story I'm referencing is the Indianapolis Star's piece earlier this week headlined "The exorcisms of Latoya Ammons."
My fellow GetReligionistas circulated the piece via email, and the general consensus was that it was outstanding work. No one seemed eager to post about it, though (smile). And if the headline didn't convict you of why, the lede surely will:
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.
It's a long story, but read it. I'll wait.
The telling of the story is incredible. It reads as though you're living it in ghoulish real-time, both in terms of the supernatural allegations to the separation by the Department of Child Services of a mother from her three young children.
It is thoroughly sourced with documents and individuals close to the case, as well. We hear from state workers, police officers, hospital personnel and both directly and indirectly from the Catholic Church.
First, and in fairness this was covered quickly in the piece, but why did the family not leave a rented home they believed to be possessed by demons before the demons allegedly were allowed to possess them? We're told it was because finances were tight. And yes, hindsight is always 20/20, but with nights spent in hotels, the cost of sacraments needed to ward off the demons, the time invested day and night by a mother and her three school-age children who weren't able to work or go to school, I think somehow it might have been possible. Somehow. Anyhow.
Mommy guilt is a powerful weapon, but it's also a tool. And I'm pretty sure if I saw my offspring levitating in bed, I'd hightail it out of there before you could say, "BOO!"
Second, my ghost-senses tingled when Ammons said she wasn't allowed to be inhabited by demons, that she had protection. How does one come to know that, exactly? Could it have been from prior experience with spirits? If you read the story, you'll note this wasn't true — she ultimately was exorcised a few times by a Catholic priest.
Third, why Ammons and her children? The focus on the rental house on Carolina Street is prevalent throughout, but the owner claimed nothing like this had happened before or has since, with new tenants. It is suggested that the children played a part and in various ways. And of course this may be a case where we might never know why, but it deserves a good and thorough asking.
Now for a little of me. I won't say I'm not a believer in present-day demons or spirits, but I will say that I haven't ever courted first-hand knowledge. I steer clear of literature, movies and mostly even news stories about the subject. I believe Satan is alive and at work in the world, so I want to distance myself from that darkness as best I can.
I will say that the IndyStar deserves kudos for writing and running the piece and presenting it for the public to decide. Overall it was quite well done. And more than a little creepy!