Partial list of paranormal research groups in Clark County:
• Northwest Paranormal and Occult Research
Leader: Gavin Sprenger
• Paranormal and Occult Research Team
Leader: Carol Ann Carnese
• Paranormal Evidence and Research Society
Leader: Cara Atwell
• White Light Paranormal Insight
Leader: Seth Michael
There were no crystal balls, flickering candles or hand-holding seance circles in Patricia Lelevier's spacious and tastefully decorated living room.
When a team of paranormal investigators arrived to hear the odd noises she'd captured on a voice recorder, nobody levitated, the walls didn't crack and the lights didn't explode.
That kind of stuff only happens in the movies, said Seth Michael, the team's leader.
The reality of ghost hunting -- at least in his experience -- is far more subtle.
It's about gathering recordings or other unexplained signals, using his sensitivity as a "medium" to feel the situation and interact with spirits and finally finding ways to help them move on, he said.
"It's like paranormal counseling," Michael said. "It's a lot of free will and choice."
Lelevier's paranormal problems began when she and her domestic partner, Mel Hawkins, first moved into the former farmhouse in June.
The Hazel Dell area home, built in 1935, used to be the main building on a large Christmas tree farm, but other than that the couple don't know much about the property.
Certainly they didn't know what could explain the strange sounds that began shortly after they settled in, Lelevier and Hawkins said.
"The first week we'd hear this rhythmic tapping," Lelevier said. "We thought it could be trees or something but no, this was on my headboard."
She gestured to a nodding Hawkins, "and he heard it too."
After that, the couple occasionally heard somebody walking, or animal paws pattering across the floor.
"One time I heard growling when I was in bed," she said. "That was scary. It actually really frightened me. I had to sleep with the light on."
After some weeks trying to figure out what was happening, the couple called Michael's group, White Light Paranormal Insight, which they found on Facebook.
The group sent a team to investigate, and after members said they helped the spirit of a person -- and also a cat -- move along to the next plane, things got better, Lelevier said.
"After you guys came everything stopped," Lelevier told Michael.
For a while, anyway.
Once the first team left, Lelevier grew fascinated with the paranormal and started trying to capture EVPs, or electronic voice phenomenon, on a small digital recorder.
When gathering EVPs, a common ghost-hunting technique, a person records the surroundings while asking a question, then pauses for an answer. When they play the recording back, sometimes they hear strange noises or voices.
Lelevier caught some of those sounds, and as she continued to investigate them, the other noises and strange activity returned, she said.
"I'm obsessed," Lelevier told Michael's team of three researchers. "I'm compelled not to stop. I'm intrigued. I'm fascinated. Somebody I can't see is talking to me."
Groups and strategies
Michael's group specializes in something they refer to as a spiritual resolve or rescue, which is a little different from the usual information gathering of paranormal researchers. Their goal is to help both the people experiencing the phenomenon and the spirits of people who have died and become trapped, Michael said.
And it's not something the group charges for, said Kimberly, a medium and investigator who draws her perceptions of what's happening in a notebook during the process.
"Charging people, that's not ethical," said Kimberly, who asked that her last name not be used because of the stigma. "We're just here to help."
Many of the Clark County ghost groups -- and there are at least six based here -- don't ask people to pay for their services.
They're driven by personal curiosity. It's a hobby, not a job, and what they do is pretty different than the ever-more-popular ghost-hunting TV shows out there, members of several groups said.
"I think it's more of a passion for finding answers," said Gavin Sprenger, leader of the Northwest Paranormal and Occult Research group. "Some groups pop up just so they can drink and run through graveyards -- but those are the people that give our industry a bad name."
Sprenger got into ghost hunting after going through a bad car accident in 1988, when he was a freshman in college. When he was in the hospital, he had an out-of-body experience and saw his mother and father crying next to his bed.
His parents confirmed what they were doing when he was unconscious and were baffled that he had seen them. And through that, he grew a newfound interest in the paranormal, Sprenger said.
"I think I'm actually the only one on my team who didn't have an experience when I was growing up, when I was a kid," Sprenger said. "That's how a lot of people get interested in this. And it's funny, because whenever we're at homes or businesses, I'm always the one that gets voices telling me to leave."
His group uses equipment to look for unusual EVPs, heat signatures, electromagnetic activity and images. And they've certainly encountered things they can't explain, he said.
"At one investigation, and we don't usually do this, but we decided to antagonize the ghost, and the lamp in the corner just sort of levitated and hit (the antagonizer) in the back of the head," Sprenger said. "Then I heard a voice saying 'shut up.'"
Mostly, the entities they find are people, confused or lonely spirits that haven't found their way to the other side yet, Sprenger said.
Occasionally, though, it's something darker, he said.
In exploring her home with EVPs, Lelevier had unwittingly sent out a signal to earthbound spirits that they were welcome to come hang out in her house, Michael told her.
"That curiosity can be a draw from the other side," Michael said. "Our mediums, some of us don't like spirits in our homes. You're living, you have boundaries. Would you let your neighbor come into your house whenever they wanted?"
Instead of conducting the experiments at home, he suggested she go outside, or to someplace where ghost hunters are welcomed, to continue her search. That way, the ghosts don't feel they have permission to go wherever they want, Michael said.
"If they're harmless, I don't mind sharing the space, but if it's something evil I want it gone," Lelevier told him.
"There's nothing negative here," Michael said.
What he did sense was a tall man who was looking for something, an older woman and a second male, he told her.
Lelevier said she and her daughter also thought they had sensed a younger, perhaps teenaged male in the bathroom.
"My daughter hears things," Lelevier said. "She's perfectly sane. She's not, like, mentally ill."
That drew a slight wince and an acknowledging chuckle from the team.
"When I came here I saw a 13-year-old boy, an older lady and a guy who looks a bit like Col. Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken)," Michael said. "I'm also getting a lot of farm references. I don't think they know they're dead."
Ghosts are the most common thing that hunters find. Occasionally, though, there are stranger things -- like balls of negative energy that aren't human and have no human memories, Michael said.
Some people describe those things as demonic, but Michael doesn't like to categorize them with any particular religion, he said.
Still, those sorts of things can latch on to people and be dangerous, Sprenger said.
"Usually it's ghosts, and you know, people that are mean on this side are usually mean on the other side too," Sprenger said. "But there is an occult side. A darker side. Normally that evil side will look for people who are weak, depressed, or people who are messing around with things that they shouldn't, like Ouija boards and other things."
Those darker, more negative entities are also things that both Michael's and Sprenger's groups can remove, the two said.
That was a concern when Michael first heard about Lelevier playing with EVPs, he added. But after meeting with her he realized she also seemed to be tuned into the paranormal realm, perhaps with a touch of mediumistic abilities herself, he said.
"I've always been very open-minded about these things," Lelevier said. "I never experienced anything before, and it's like a new world for me. It brings a new perspective on life -- that there's something beyond."
Throughout the meeting, Michael would occasionally tilt his head, listening to or seeing spirits.
"I see a network with lines crossing, it's like they're drawn in to certain places," Michael explained.
As he proceeded, he struck up a conversation with what he said was the older man's spirit.
"Do you know anyone in this house?" Michael asked. "No, he's saying 'no, I don't know where I am.'"
He and the other mediums worked to help the spirit, using their abilities to find relatives to help the spirit cross to the other side, they said.
"It's like a dream state," Michael said. "For me it's like a loving, caring thing to tell them what's going on and to help them."
As he worked, Kimberly went into the bathroom with Lelevier and helped the teenage spirit cross in a similar manner, they said.
When they returned, Kimberly started drawing a picture in her notebook as Michael took note of the older woman's spirit standing in the hallway.
The spirit, a good one, wanted to remain with the family, and Lelevier agreed.
Once the rest had moved along, the mediums asked Jesus and other positive spirits to protect the home.
"Gata gata paragata parasamgata bodhi svaha," Kimberly chanted, evoking the Buddhist "Heart Sutra," which she said roughly translates to "Gone, gone, gone to my awakening, hallelujah."
After that, Lelevier said the house felt lighter somehow.
"Do you smell cinnamon or apples?" Michael asked.
Kimberly laughed as the others nodded and brought out her notebook, where she had drawn a baking pie.
"How's that for a coincidence?" she said.