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The gathering Bruce and Danielle Collins hosted at their home Tuesday evening was no ordinary house party. There were stories about toys the couple's three children received from Santa, a pitch-in meal of finger foods and tours of the couple's log home - whose inspiration and construction are credits to Bruce's talents and hard work.
Less conventional activities included talks and demonstrations by ghost hunters, more suitably called paranormal investigators, dressed in black and yellow T-shirts and armed with audio recordings captured in the house they claim aren't from the world of the living.
The assembly, spirited in the jovial sense but mindful of the spirits many of them believe in, marked the airing of "Paranormal State," the A&E Television Network program that explores the world of the paranormal, from ghost sightings to demonic disturbances.
Bruce and Danielle's home, between St. Meinrad and Bristow, was visited by the show's investigatory team back in October and anticipation had built for months over what members of the Paranormal Research Society had discovered.
"The folks from the show didn't fill us in on a lot of what they found," Bruce said in an interview the week before the show aired. "We know they heard some things and they had given us some hints, but we're not sure of the direction the show will take."
Beliefs about the spirit realm range from certain belief to absolute denial and the couple stress that they aren't sure what their experiences mean. They're not trying to force beliefs on others or raise concern or suspicion in the community. However, they suspect many people believe there are times when the world of the dead collide with that of the living.
The couple began to consider their home might be home to one or more spirits after their son, Gavin, fell from a second-floor window in July 2008. Only 2 years old at the time, the child was alone in a sister's room when he went tumbling out of a window.
The child was flown to Kosair's Hospital in Louisville. He had to wear a brace for a time but recovered with no permanent injuries.
Soon after returning home, Bruce asked Gavin how he fell. The reply was unexpected and alarming.
"Boy pushed me," Gavin told his dad.
Gavin has two sisters and was alone in the room at the time.
Not sure what to make of the remark, Bruce's concern grew a few weeks later when Gavin screamed while alone in an upstairs room. Running through a hallway into his father's arms, Gavin said a boy had scared him. Again, there was no other boy around.
There were other signs of possible paranormal activity, Bruce says.
While the couple saw no floating apparitions or anything that would concretely convince them without a doubt the house was inhabited by a spirit, Bruce and Danielle said they would occasionally glimpse something moving in the house.
"It was always at the corner of your eye, but it was enough to make you get up and check things out," Bruce said. "I'd see something move, think it was Danielle and walk into the room and find no one there."
The couple's daughters sometimes reported seeing faces in windows and talked about cannibals living outside.
Not sure of his own beliefs about the paranormal, Bruce began looking for more information.
A friend at work told him about a group of paranormal investigators based in Henderson, Ky. They spent a night in the home and allegedly detected activity with the infrared cameras and sensitive recording equipment.
Two members of the group returned for a second visit and claimed to have recorded an ominous voice. The Kentucky group contacted "Paranormal State" and the Collinses were interviewed several times about their experiences. They learned last fall that the television show's team, lead by Paranormal Research Society Director Ryan Buell, had chosen their case for an episode of the show.
Investigators and camera operators spent two days in the house in October. Based on the show that aired last week, they found signs of potential paranormal activity, including what sounded like footsteps in the woods and other sounds inside the house. A fog-like apparition captured by one camera also drew attention, but the team wasn't able to conclude what the sighting was. A psychic who visited the house also claimed to have detected the presence of a spirit in the home.
The show made no certain conclusions about the home but raised the case of Ricky Thomas, the Bristow teen who went missing in 1997. The show tiptoed around theories of what might have happened to the 13-year-old. The Collinses hoped the show's producers would avoid making allegations about the case.
Tuesday's program concluded with the family planting a tree, a sign of respect for the land. Salt was also scattered around the home, offering a possible boundary of protection for the family from evil forces. Before the show aired, Bruce and Danielle raised the possibility that disturbing the land for their home might have disturbed a site sacred to Native Indians.
"That's something we never thought about at first, but it makes sense," Bruce said.
Since the show's taping there have been fewer unexplainable events taking place in the home and the family is more at ease, Bruce and Danielle said.
For more information on "Paranormal State," visit the show's Web site at www. paranormalstate.com. The complete 30-minute broadcast of last week's show can be viewed on the site.
For more information about Paranormal Investigators of Henderson Kentucky, call (270) 823-2519 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.