About The Society
In 2001, a then-19-year-old Penn State college student named Ryan Buell founded PRS. Buell, who hailed from South Carolina, began investigating at the age of 16, although he later admitted that it was more of a thrill hunt than a paranormal investigation. Before forming PRS, Buell struggled to find an outlet for investigating, jumping between a couple of now defunct paranormal groups.
When Buell transferred to Penn State University – University Park (main campus) in August 2001, he scoured the massive university in hopes of finding an outlet for his interest in the paranormal, but to no avail. Even though Penn State boasted having more than 600 special interest groups (not including department-specific groups), not one was dedicated to investigating the paranormal.
Buell took it upon himself to form his own group, and on September 16, 2001, the first meeting was held. Due to the events of September 11th – or perhaps a sign of things to come – only four people attended. Buell tried advertising again, and at the following meeting, over 15 people showed up. Buell had proposed calling the group ‘Paranormal Research Society’ as only a temporary name until the group decided on a new one. However, the group unanimously felt that the name was fitting and voted to keep it as the official name.
At the close of 2001, PRS received notification by the now-defunct Undergraduate Student Government (USG) that PRS’ status as an official organization was denied. Buell recalls that the USG was very skeptical, hesitant and a little uncertain about PRS. “To sum it up nicely, they didn’t understand us,” Buell explains. “They were used to fundraiser groups, fraternities and maybe a Frisbee club. But a club that says it’s going to investigate claims of demonic possession and hauntings? I still remember the looks on their faces.”
PRS was bounced to several departments for evaluation, including the Environment Health and Safety department, to ensure students’ safety. “I remember having to explain to one of the directors there that I was required to get his signature approving that our group was safe for students to join,” said Buell. “I explained what our group did and he was completely baffled.” Nevertheless, he signed off on the group, citing that there was nothing tangible for him to evaluate.
Returning to school after winter break, Buell and team petitioned once more for official status. At their third hearing, Buell and a few other members petitioned the committee to give the group a chance to prove themselves, since it was regularly pointed out by the USG that the purpose of the group was unclear (“It was very clear,” recounts Buell, “it just didn’t register in their vocabulary. And I don’t hold that against them.”).
In mid-February, PRS was given official status, and hence amended the name of their group to “Penn State Paranormal Research Society.”
PRS Organizes One Of The Most Influential Police & Psychic Investigations In History.
On Halloween 2001, Penn State student Cindy Song went missing. She vanished without a trace or clue of her whereabouts, sending Penn State and State College in to shock and confusion. After a couple months of local press, awareness of Cindy Song began to quickly dwindle.
Like every other Penn State student, Buell had heard about the disappearance of Song, and found it extremely disturbing. “I remember wondering how a person could just disappear in such a safe town like State College,” said Buell. “It affected all of us.”
In the spring of 2002, a self-proclaimed psychic named Carla Baron wrote to PRS, identifying herself from being from Lock Haven, and was excited to hear that a paranormal group had sprung up near her home town. Eager to talk to a professional psychic, Buell and Baron began talking on the phone. During those conversations, Baron spoke about her work with police departments. “I had always heard about psychics working with the police, but you never actually heard about it,” said Buell. “No one ever admitted to it.”
Then Buell had a thought: he told Baron about Cindy Song and asked if she’d be interested in speaking with the police department. Baron said that she’d be open to it but that the police had to open to it in order for her to be involved.
A couple days later, right before classes ended for summer break, Buell picked up the phone to call the Ferguson Township Police, who had jurisdiction over the case. “I remember being excited and slightly mortified at the same time,” recalls Buell. “I knew I had a very good chance at being laughed at, so eventually I decided I had nothing to lose.” Buell asked to speak to the detective in charge, and he was put in contact with Detective Brian Sprinkle. Buell explained his case, and was surprised to find that Sprinkle was very interested in speaking with a psychic.
“Sprinkle told me that they had briefly spoken to one psychic, but that nothing had panned out,” said Buell. “But yeah, he was very open to it, which was a big thing for me. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Buell connected Baron with Sprinkle, and the two started to correspond regularly. After a couple weeks, Buell asked Sprinkle if it was fine to publish on the PRS website that they – along with Baron – were working with the police on the Cindy Song case. Once again, Buell was surprised to hear that the answer was ‘yes.’ It would become one of the most publicized police/psychic cases in recent U.S. history.
Within two days of posting the news, press inquiries began to flood in. First locally, then regionally. After a few weeks, a couple of producers contacted Buell, citing interest in the case. Once again Buell and PRS connected them to the ongoing investigation, hence creating another major milestone. The documentary would later become a special for Court-TV (now known as TruTV) called “Psychic Detectives,” which then evolved in to a regular TV series. It was arguably the first major paranormal show in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, despite the political success the psychic pairing created for paranormal community, as well as the new exposure it created for Cindy Song, her case still remains unsolved to this day.
Two Defining Cases That Would Change PRS Forever.
In the fall of 2004, Buell entered what he thought would be his senior year. Two cases, however, changed everything for those involved.
PRS investigated two cases in the Pittsburgh area that quickly became violent and dangerous, thus exposing PRS and its investigators to the dark side to investigating: the demonic.
The first, in Aliquippa, was not immediately seen as a threat, but after two visits, the team realized that they weren’t dealing with a harmless entity. “We have pictures of a black entity moving around the room.”
The second involves one of the first officially sanctioned exorcisms of the 21st-century in the United States. Bob Cranmer (who, at the time, was the Commissioner of Pittsburgh) and his family dealt with a terrifying haunting in their downtown home. The phenomenon was daily and often violent towards family members. Cranmer was advised by the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese to contact PRS in the hopes that they could gather and document evidence that could help approve a formal exorcism. In January 2005, PRS dispatched eight people to investigate the case. They brought in forensic students to analyze a mysterious substance that kept oozing down the walls. More disturbing itself was a threat made against Buell. Two psychics, including a priest, warned Buell that he would be stabbed. At some point during the investigation, Buell made an observation against one of the sons. Buell claimed that the son was acting unusual in very subtle ways. Buell sent in their psychologist, Adam, to interview the son. Both became convinced that something was influencing the boy, who later became agitated, walking around the house with a knife and asking where Buell was.
The case would later be approved for a formal exorcism, conducted by the late Father James Lebar, one of the only public exorcists in American at the time (Lebar would later give his last public lecture at PRS’ conference, UNIV-CON, in 2007, just months before passing away).
For Buell and team, the several-months long process left a lasting scar on the group. Because of the frequent trips to Pittsburgh in order to help both cases, Buell was forced to drop out of college in order to avoid failing.
Cranmer later wrote a book about the haunting in his home, “The Demon of Brownsville Road.”
The “Paranormal State” Years.
In April 2006, Buell and PRS shot a pilot for A&E (the episode, “Sixth Sense,” would later air as the premiere episode). While Buell celebrated graduating from Penn State with his first degree, he received news that A&E ordered a full season.
As Buell went back to school to pursue another degree, he and PRS had a new task at hand. They would have to investigate and film 13 investigations from November 2006 until Spring 2007. Suddenly, PRS and team had to get used to a full camera crew following them around every step of the way.
“Season one was very documentary in the sense that they were just there to document and see what happened,” said Buell.
After filming wrapped in Spring 2007, PRS got the news that the show wouldn’t debut until Christmas 2007, a whopping nine months away. Time went by quickly, however, and in October 2007, PRS and A&E debuted the show during UNIV-CON 2007 to a sold-out crowd.
The show received mixed reactions, as most of the audience was used to only one show, “Ghost Hunters.” “State” was clearly different.
On December 10th, 2007, “Paranormal State” debuted, bringing in 2.5 million people to watch the first episode. For Buell and PRS, the private life was over.
After the end of season one, Buell was asked to appear on numerous talk shows including FOX NEWS, “Maury,” “Montel,” and “Tyra.”
Suddenly, PRS became a full-time job and its own private society. PRS formally separated from Penn State that year and started a new chapter. In the Spring of 2008, PRS moved in to its first professional office dwelling, with a small staff, dedicated to working on season two of “State.” On top of filming and investigating, PRS regularly hosted “open houses,” where paranormal enthusiasts from around the world traveled to tour PRS’ office and attend seminars.
“It was a wild time,” recalls Buell. “Here we were, this little college group, and next thing you know we have a two-story office and people as far as Australia flying in to visit us. And cases. We were getting hundreds of case requests on any given week.”
In September 2010, Buell released his first book, “Paranormal State: My Journey Into The Unknown.” It’s currently in its sixth printing.
Buell and PRS would end up doing five successful seasons of “Paranormal State,” with a total of 84 episodes. By the shows fifth season, “State” was the number one paranormal show on TV. After the completion of season five, however, Buell announced on his website that he would not return for additional seasons.
“I was burnt out,” said Buell. “I hadn’t really had an opportunity to live my life and there were a lot of personal challenges I was dealing with.”
After the completion of the show, PRS continued to host events for another couple years before Buell ultimately stepped away to battle with his own demons.
The creation of a new PRS.
In 2017, Buell admitted that he had been battling with addiction and depression for years. This led to the demise of the society and a very public fall for Buell. After near fatal overdoses and two arrests, Buell sought help. He was introduced to a 12-step recovery model and has been clean since April 2017.
With the help of ‘Potter’ Daniel and a few other close allies, Buell created a new PRS in the summer of 2017. The journey would be slow, focusing at first only on a couple of paranormal events.
Since then, Buell and PRS have traveled all over the country, reconnecting with supporters and paranormal enthusiasts. PRS is slowly returning to hosting investigations and educational retreats. In 2021, PRS launched its new website, with the hopes of expansion by the end of the year. PRS also hopes to provide resources for those who are interested in the paranormal, while also conducting new research.
PRS is currently HQ’ed in Columbia, SC. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheParanormalResearchSociety