The history of PRS is not an easy one to tell. In just ten short years, this society has become one of the most recognizable paranormal organizations in the country, if not the world.
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 time, anyone was invited to join the society as an investigator, but that mindset quickly changed after an investigation in late September that led to an outbreak of hysteria. The team took a late-night expedition to the Pattee Library, where in 1969 a Penn State student named Betsy Aardsma was murdered. Her murder is still unsolved and many people believe the she – or something – haunts the library stacks. About a dozen members were present when a few non-students and self-proclaimed psychics determined that the spirit of Betsy’s killer had possessed Buell during the investigation. Buell was not present during this discussion. Hysteria and fear broke out and it spread surprisingly fast through some of the members. Many others left the group because they felt it wasn’t serious enough, citing this incident as a prime example.
Because of this incident, Buell, with the help of one remaining member (Matthew), began to restructure the organization in hopes of attracting only the serious-minded. “We quickly realized that not everyone would join PRS with the same goals as us,” Buell said in an internal interview in 2003. “We frequently would get people who didn’t treat the subject seriously and just wanted to see a ghost.” PRS set up a rigorous structure, forming research departments and restricting investigator membership level to only those who went through a semester-long training course (1 day a week for four months).
Immediately, the society started to attract more dedicated students and grad students. Many of them would contribute to long-standing views and policies that remain with the society today, such as an Oversight Committee to review cases (now known as the Internal Paranormal Research Committee), the formation of the Parapsychology & Laboratory Research (PLR) department and more. One member in particular would also become a permanent staple in PRS – Eilfie Music.
Music, a recent graduate from high school, was a member of the Penn State Silver Circle, a student-run Wiccan & Pagan group. During a meeting, PRS asked the leaders of Silver Circle if a member could visit to talk about the group. Matthew, showing up in a black suit and tie, addressed the pagan and wiccan group.
“I remember thinking, ‘he looks like he’s an FBI agent,’” said Music, nearly ten years later. Music admits that the group wasn’t enthusiastic about PRS’ initial visit. Nevertheless, she decided to attend a meeting sometime in November 2001, where she met Buell. “That was even more strange, because Ryan looked like a regular college student. He looked normal. And at that time, normal people weren’t very vocal about their interest in the paranormal.”
Says Buell, “I remember meeting Eilfie for the first time and knowing at that moment that there was something very special about her. And I was right.”
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.” Little did Penn State – or PRS – know it, but within five years, PRS would bring the national spotlight on Penn State, whether they liked it or not.
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. Baron later went on to star in another paranormal docu-series for Court-TV, “Haunting Evidence,” which lasted two seasons.
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.
UNIV-CON Is Born.
In 2002, PRS launched a paranormal conference called UNIV-CON, which stands for “University Conference for Paranormal Research.” At that time, UNIV-CON was the only paranormal conference taking place at a university, hence making it yet another milestone for the group.
Initially, the group was skeptical of hosting a conference so soon. After all, PRS was less than one year old, some argued. Buell made the effort. “I think the reason I had this urge to move so fast is because I knew I only had four years here, and I wanted to accomplish as much as possible before I graduated,” said Buell.
The conference attracted a couple hundred students between the four major lectures. Saturday night attracted the most, with now-deceased speaker/demonologist Lou Gentile presenting his evidence on demonic hauntings. “I remember the crowd was freaking out,” said Buell. “It was amazing. I really felt we were on to something.”
For Buell, however, the conference was a disappointment in terms of attendance.
“I think Ryan was expecting thousands to show up,” adds Music, who volunteered at the first conference. “Back then, we weren’t sure if there was enough interest for another one.”
The answer was yes. In 2003, PRS tried again, bringing the late George Lutz (for whom ‘Amityville Horror’ is based on), as well as others. The conference maintained the same numbers, but this time, PRS saw more attendance in its daily workshops, which were conducted by members of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS).
UNIV-CON 2003 was also notable in that it introduced Buell and PRS to Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, who later went on to star in “Ghost Hunters.” Hawes and Wilson would become regular guests at UNIV-CON, speaking at every conference until 2007.
UNIV-CON continued every year, seeing its audience grow 100%, then 200% and even 300%. During UNIV-CON 2007, over 2,000 people attended. The main lectures now sold out Schwab Auditorium, which held over 700 people.
“Penn State is its own country,” explains Buell. “There are so many events being held on campus all the time, that on any given weekend you have almost 100 speakers doing various lectures. So to get to the point where you need security and you’re packing one of the biggest on-campus venues, that’s when you know you’ve become a part of the Penn State culture.”
In 2008, UNIV-CON moved to the Penn Stater, where it held its seventh conference. UNIV-CON went dark in 2009 and 2010, due to lack of time with PRS.
“UNIV-CON became a full-time job. We had to hire two people full-time to handle it. And they still needed help. As we became more involved with ‘Paranormal State,’ it just became impossible to do the conference justice,” said Buell.
PRS, however, plans to bring UNIV-CON back, with a possibility of a 2011 date.
2003. PRS Takes a Set-Back.
After two years, PRS faced another major challenge: graduation. It was one of the benefits and flaws of PRS. Members would only be able to contribute to the society for a maximum of four years before graduating and moving from State College to join the working force. In 2003, PRS lost several of its original members due to graduation, as well as a people changing interests. Matthew, who was considered to be Buell’s right-hand man for the first two years, moved on, although he’d later return in late 2003.
For Buell, who spent the majority of his life looking for other partners to pursue the paranormal with, it was a sobering reality. PRS members had a ticking expiration date. Every couple years, PRS would have to reinvent itself with new members.
It also brought up another major point: how would PRS continue after Buell graduated?
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, including new members Sergey Poberezhny and Josh Light.
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.”
A Pittsburgh politician 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. The politician, who plans to go public this year, lived in a historic house that he claimed was filled with a violent, demonic entity. In January 2005, Buell dispatched eight people (including himself) 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 his psychologist, Adam, in 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 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.
“We all hit rock bottom that year,” said Poberezhny, who had to withdraw that semester in order to avoid failing as well. “Our lives changed. We became aware and felt that we had to help these families at all costs.”
Rebuilding & TV Offers.
After being forced to drop out of college and nearly losing his life, Buell took a few months off from PRS in order to regroup. He successfully re-enrolled in school for the following semester, and returned to PRS in hopes of focusing on training a new generation of students to take over.
Within a month, however, Buell changed his views on his position in PRS. Deciding that PRS could survive outside Penn State, Buell and a few others decided that, after Buell’s graduation, they would take PRS with them to continue building the society.
A couple months later, Penn State PRS was given another major opportunity. After assisting in several programs and shows, they had their very own opportunity for a show.
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.
The “Paranormal State” Years.
(For purposes of keeping this section focused on PRS, only relevant information directly pertaining to PRS is included.)
Buell and PRS starred in “Paranormal State” for five successful seasons. After the end of season one, Buell was asked to appear on FOX NEWS, “Maury,” “Montel” and dozens of other programs. Buell and PRS were invited to Sundance in 2008 to host a party for a short independent movie directed by Kirsten Dunst (“Spider-Man” films).
Because of the heavy demand of “State,” Buell had to put his continuing education on hold. Poberezhny and the rest of the cast successfully graduated Penn State, with the last, trainee Heather Taddy, graduating May 2008.
Suddenly, PRS became a full-time job. 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,” UNIV-CON and other endeavors.
“State” also had its setbacks for the society. Buell and co. were no longer able to maintain aspects of the society outside of the TV show, and essentially membership dwindled. After 2008, PRS no longer had time for UNIV-CON.
In September 2010, Buell released his first book, “Paranormal State: My Journey Into The Unknown.” It’s currently in its fourth printing.
In January 2011, Buell announced that he would not return to “Paranormal State” in order to focus on the society as well as personal endeavors. The rest of PRS followed suit.
PRS Back To Business.
PRS recently announced that it was reopening its doors for new members.
PRS recently revamped its website in order to keep fans and supporters aware of its continuing efforts.
Sometime in mid-2011, PRS plans to re-open case submission for consideration.
Ryan Buell, Eilfie Music, Sergey Poberezhny, Katrina Weidman and Josh Light remain members of PRS. Ryan Buell still serves as Director.