15 Oct 2009
Ghost hunters search for paranormal activity
SPRING LAKE - Mick Barraza believes in ghosts. He said he has seen them in action.
Years ago, Barraza was in bed asleep when he heard his stepson's tricycle being ridden in the house. Wondering what the boy was doing up so late at night, Barraza got up to check.
"With my own eyes," he said, "I saw the tricycle going around in circles."
No rider. Just the tricycle wheeling around by itself.
Experiences like that - there have been others, he said - convinced Barraza of the existence of a spirit world.
These days, he investigates claims of paranormal phenomenon as founder and head of the Spring Lake North Carolina Ghosthunters.
The five-year-old organization looks into claims of supernatural goings-on. The group doesn't charge a fee for its service.
These real-life ghostbusters are no wild-eyed fanatics. They say their main objective is to debunk claims of ghostly happenings.
Barraza, who works in hotel maintenance when he's not chasing ghosts, got interested in starting his own ghost-hunting group after watching the "Ghost Hunters" television show on the Syfy channel, in which a team of investigators looks into paranormal claims.
Even before Barraza saw the show, he said he had experiences with the paranormal besides the tricycle incident.
"I've had the interest most of my life," he said. "Watching that show just kind of spurred my interest."
Barraza said ghost-hunting was a "learn as you go" process for him. He went online to find out what kind of equipment a ghost hunter needs. Barraza also has attended conferences with others in the supernatural field.
"As we went from one case to another, we learned what needed to be done and what equipment we needed," he said. Today, the group, which has about 10 members, takes devices, including digital cameras, tape recorders and night vision equipment, to the sites it investigates.
The group's members practiced their skills in graveyards, based on the logic that if spirits were anywhere, they were likely to be there.
But most of the training was on the job. Together with a partner who is now deceased, Barraza put out the word that the group was available to investigate paranormal claims.
The group did no advertising and just relied on word of mouth. Gradually, people started coming forward with accounts of things going bump in the night - and more.
Barraza said he has looked into claims of strange noises, disembodied voices, objects moving around of their own accord and other phenomenon.
The investigation always starts with an interview with the homeowner to determine the nature of the event. Then begins the process of debunking, or trying to find a natural cause for the "otherworldly" events.
Faulty wiring in a house can be the cause of lights flickering on and off. A plumbing problem is likely the cause of a toilet flushing over and over again.
"Some people aren't aware of that," said Nina Maier, who works with the Ghosthunters group. "They swear there's a ghost flushing the toilet."
Other times, the occurrences can't be explained so easily.
Mark and Donna Yarborough are members of Spring Lake Ghosthunters, but they started out as clients.
The Yarboroughs, who live in Sanford, have an 11-year-old son with Down Syndrome. They became convinced a spirit was trying to communicate with their son.
The couple said they would hear voices in their son's room, and he told them he had been playing with a girl. The Yarboroughs said they heard other voices as well, including one that said, "Nighty-night. Sleepy time."
Although they didn't get the sense that the presence was harmful, the Yarboroughs decided to have the situation investigated. Mark Yarborough said he saw a Spring Lake Ghosthunters sign and called the phone number.
"We didn't know where to turn or who to talk to," Yarborough said. "We knew we needed to talk to someone."
Although the investigation didn't turn up concrete evidence of ghosts, the Yarboroughs are convinced there is a spiritual presence in their house. They're OK with that. In fact they still live in the same house.
"Actually, we welcome it," Yarborough said. "They don't seem to be too harmful."
Jeannie Nelson is owner of The Chocolate Lady in downtown Fayetteville. She sells her sweet creations at the old Point News building on Hay Street.
Before she moved to her current location, Nelson housed her business in a building on Gillespie Street. While she was there, she began to suspect there was something out of the ordinary going on.
"We used to hear some really strange noises in there, doors slamming when they shouldn't, that kind of thing," Nelson said. "We thought, downtown has other haunted places, I wonder if we are."
A friend told Nelson about the Spring Lake Ghosthunters. She called and arranged for a visit.
"It was really cool. It was like something on TV," Nelson said. "They turned all the lights out and they had their cameras and tape recorders and did their investigation."
Nelson said the investigation didn't reveal anything conclusive about the presence of spirits in the building, but she was glad to at least have her concerns investigated. She said she has experienced no such phenomenon at her current business location.
Despite the fact that their investigations haven't produced positive evidence of spooks - no spirit that can be captured and bottled up like the one in the "Ghostbusters" movies - team members say they believe in the possibility.
For that reason, and the off-chance that any ghosts they do encounter might turn out to be less than friendly, these Ghosthunters always work in groups of two or more.
"That's a rule of thumb," Barraza said. "Never go alone."
Staff writer Rodger Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3561.
Spring Lake North Carolina Ghosthunters: Go to meetup.com/ SpringlakeNCghosthunters
Fayetteville Paranormal: Go to fayettevilleparanormal.com.