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Indiana County paranormal team employs electronics to track down spectral phenomena

| Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
From left, Melissa Williams of West Elizabeth and Sarah Shotts of Indiana, members of the Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal team, use 'ghost meters' during a ghost hunt Oct. 25 in Homer City.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
From left, Melissa Williams of West Elizabeth and Sarah Shotts of Indiana, members of the Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal team, use 'ghost meters' during a ghost hunt Oct. 25 in Homer City.
Sarah Shotts of Shotts in the Dark Paranormal holds a 'ghost meter.'
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Sarah Shotts of Shotts in the Dark Paranormal holds a 'ghost meter.'
From left, junior ghost hunters Dominic Edwards and Noah Black, both 14 of Homer City, confer with team leader Sarah Shotts of Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal during an Oct. 25. ghost hunt in Homer City.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
From left, junior ghost hunters Dominic Edwards and Noah Black, both 14 of Homer City, confer with team leader Sarah Shotts of Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal during an Oct. 25. ghost hunt in Homer City.
Sarah Mack Shotts (center) of Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal leads a kid-friendly ghost tour with participants (from left) Zoe Renz, 10, and Kyleigh Bell, 11, both of Homer City, as part of an Oct. 25 festival at the town's Floodway Park.
Bruce Siskawicz | Trib Total Media
Sarah Mack Shotts (center) of Indiana-based Shotts in the Dark Paranormal leads a kid-friendly ghost tour with participants (from left) Zoe Renz, 10, and Kyleigh Bell, 11, both of Homer City, as part of an Oct. 25 festival at the town's Floodway Park.

Believers in the paranormal will find kindred spirits among a local group of investigators that specializes in all things ghostly.

Shotts in the Dark Paranormal offers its services in seeking out spirits to homeowners and business establishments looking to find out just what those creepy apparitions or unexplained noises in the night are.

Sarah Shotts of Indiana is the founder of the team and has been a believer in the paranormal since she was a young girl.

“I've had too many experiences, especially when I'm sitting on a battlefield at 3 a.m. hearing gunfire, to not be a believer,” Shotts said.

Shotts, originally from Pittsburgh, moved to Indiana County in 2001. Shotts in the Dark Paranormal got its start four years ago, when Shotts assembled the team as a hobby with her best friend, Melissa Williams of Pittsburgh. Williams serves as the group's science tech. She is also the “debunk guru,” according to the group's website, and is prone to look at things from a more scientific view.

“We were always going on trips,” Shotts said, noting that, at first, Williams didn't believe in any kind of paranormal activity. But her friend's disbelief was challenged after an experience the two had at a Gettysburg bed and breakfast believed to be haunted.

“We had an experience at Gettysburg that couldn't even remotely be considered normal,” Shotts said.

They were sitting in a gazebo with a piece of ghost-hunting equipment known as a PSB7, or “spirit box” — which emits white noise and which ghost hunters use to pick up “paranormal wave” activity.

They were introducing themselves to any spirits that may have been present. There was no response when Sarah asked out loud what Melissa's name was. But, she said, when she asked, “What's my name,” they both heard clearly the response: “Sarah.”

“We kind of looked at each other like, ‘Wow, this is insane,'” Shotts recalled.

She said that was the first of many experiences they've had at that bed and breakfast.

Their paranormal-themed trips “kind of snowballed,” Shotts said, until they felt a need to form Shotts in the Dark, particularly after talking with other people about their perceived paranormal experiences.

She and Williams would take their equipment to various spots to try to detect paranormal activity. Then, they started getting calls from people wanting them to come to their homes and businesses to see what they could find.

Shotts said she's been having otherworldly experiences since she was 9 years old.

She recalled that, shortly after her grandfather passed away, she was in her bed wide awake, with the covers up to her nose, when she felt someone sit beside her on the bed.

A feeling of comfort came over her. Peeling back her covers, she said she saw her grandfather sitting there in the suit they had buried him in that morning.

“He didn't say anything, but I could hear him,” she said. “He said, ‘Kid, everything's going to be OK.'”

Her father took her to see a specialist, who claimed that Shotts had a gift, saying that it would either continue to develop as she got older, or she'd begin to suppress it.

“I suppressed it,” Shotts said. “But I continued to have experiences when other relatives died.”

Shotts was later able to put a name to her “gift.” She explained that she's considered a clair-empath, meaning she can sense energies others can't detect. She's also a clair-audio, and can hear what others can't.

“There's many times when I'd like to shut it off, but it doesn't work that way,” she said.

Shotts acknowledged that, though she's had a number of paranormal experiences, very few of them are what she'd call creepy or scary.

“In my industry, creepy is hard to come by,” she said.

“There are places in Indiana County where I've felt demonic energies,” she said. “But it's not like ‘The Exorcist.' It's just a lot of pent-up anger.”

In most cases, the spirits her group has come across have been nothing but curious, Shotts said.

“In a lot of cases, they're seeking out attention,” she said.

Most recently, Shotts in the Dark was on hand for two ghost walks at Homer City's inaugural fall festival, held Oct. 25 at the town's Floodway Park. A family-friendly walk was held in the afternoon, with the 18-and-over crowd invited to one in the evening. The walks started at the park and went to a few undisclosed locations nearby.

Shotts said that spirits don't contain themselves to nighttime hauntings.

“Most people believe you can only find them in the dark, and that's absolutely not true,” she said. “You can see them in broad daylight. You can see them anywhere.”

The group has another ghost walk planned in November, though no details were set, and is in discussion with a couple of businesses for other ghost hunts.

One of the group's higher-profile hunts in the area took place in July 2013 at the Indiana Costume Shop in downtown Indiana. The owner asked the group to investigate after hearing rumors about the building being haunted and experiencing some unexplainable occurrences in the shop.

The investigative team was able to detect several floating “orbs” at the site with their cameras.

Shotts said she'd rather not know the history of a place she's investigating, believing it could color her own reading of the site.

Shotts in the Dark offers its services free of charge when asked to come to a home or place of business to investigate. The group also will come to birthday parties or other group events to teach others about what they do. They've even been invited to children's parties, where kids can play with and learn about the various equipment the team uses — both its everyday use and its uses in searching for spirits. The youngsters also have an opportunity to learn abouth Shotts in the Dark's junior team.

Shotts in the Dark has three full-time members — Shotts, Williams and Bruce Grover of Indiana, who is the team's expert spirit box-handler. The team also has several part-time members.

Noah Blatt of Homer City is considered one of the co-founders of the junior team.

Blatt, 14, is in the ninth grade at Homer-Center High School and has always held a fascination with the paranormal. He said that interest has grown with the advent of reality television shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” that have become popular.

He found out about Shotts in the Dark through his mother, Ginger Blatt, and the two joined the team on a trip to Gettysburg in August 2013.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said of the trip, noting that he had a paranormal experience of his own while there. He recalled that he heard footsteps and a door creaking open at 3 a.m. at the rental house in which they were staying.

Blatt just reached the minimum age to join the junior team. As one of the first members, he's helping pave the way for other young ghost hunters. He went on his first official hunt as a team member during the Homer City fall festival.

“It was really cool,” Blatt said. “We heard some interesting voices on the walk.”

Blatt works with his own spirit box, which he won last year through a raffle the team held.

He hopes to be trained on some other equipment as he gets more involved with the team.

“I'm hoping we get a lot of experience,” he said.

Shotts in the Dark junior team members have to be at least 14 years old and mature enough to handle what they may encounter in the business of ghost-hunting.

“Otherwise, it'd be like a bad episode of Scooby Doo, with kids running around screaming,” Shotts said.

The junior paranormal team is always looking for more members, Shotts said, noting that students have to maintain a C average or higher in school to participate.

The group is conducting a Yankee Candle fundraiser Nov. 1-14 to benefit the junior paranormal team, helping its eight young members raise money for a trip to Gettysburg next March. Anyone interested in ordering is invited to reach out through the team website or on the Shotts in the Dark Facebook page.

The Shotts in the Dark team uses a variety of equipment in its ghost-hunting ventures, some of it with everyday uses, like wildlife-scouting cameras, digital cameras and dowsing rods.

In addition to the PSB7 spirit box, the team uses EMF detectors that are said to pick up subtle electromagnetic fields that surround a human body and can detect more erratic EMF emissions that may be found in a reportedly haunted environment.

Dowsing rods — often used to find water or gold — can easily be manipulated by spirits, and are therefore a favorite tool of ghost hunters, Shotts explained.

The team uses infrared thermometers to gauge the temperature around them. Drops in temperature can signify that a spirit is nearby, Shotts said. For example, she said, at the Gettysburg bed and breakfast they frequent, temperatures rapidly can drop from 65 degrees in one area to 45 degrees when they walk to a different spot.

“Usually, when there's a temperature drop, it's something paranormal,” she said, maintaining that spirits “drop energy in order to manifest.”

Radiating electromagnetic (REM) pods are another of the group's tools. They pick up fluctuations in static energy.

“When you walk into a room and get the creepy-crawlies, that's typically spirits speaking,” Shotts said.

But not everyone will be able to see or feel the spirits that the paranormal team hunts and investigates, she said.

“Some people see things; some can't,” Shotts said. “You either want to believe or you don't.”

And she's of a mind that, if you don't believe, paranormal energies aren't going to bother with you.

“They're not going to waste time with people who don't believe,” she said.

Well aware of the skeptics out there, Shotts said her team is not out to prove the existence of the paranormal to others.

“We're not here to change people's minds in what we do,” Shotts said. “We're not here to change opinions. We show you the proof, and we offer any help we can give you. But at the end of the day, you're the only who can believe it.”

For more information about the Shotts in the Dark Paranormal team, visit shottsinthedarkparanormal.com or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/Shottsinthedark.

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or gdelfavero@tribweb.com.

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