Shawn Kelly is the 45-year-old founder of the Pittsburgh Paranormal Society, a ghost-hunting group he began in 2006. Much like the popular A&E television show Paranormal State, Kelly's group of a dozen scientific and spiritual investigators visit haunted houses, hotels and graveyards in Southwestern Pennsylvania, "help[ing] spirits cross to the other side." Kelly, who works as a Giant Eagle meat-cutter by day, says he's been examining spirits in various ways, including multiple stints as a psychic, for more than 20 years. His team, which does not charge for its services, has investigated more than 100 cases, he says, gathering evidence that spirits -- both good and evil -- exist.
What is the fascination with the paranormal?
The attraction is not knowing what's out there. You know it's out there, you know spirits exist, but once you get a picture, or once you get evidence on an EVP [Electronic Voice Phenomena, an audio recording of paranormal voices or sounds], ... it just gives you a rush that is just so unbelievable.
Critics say you go into your investigations with the intent of proving your beliefs about the paranormal. Why should people believe you?
Say we went to your house, and you said your house was haunted. You would call me, and I would come out and interview you. At that time, I walk your house and see if there is something there or not. But you live in that house, you see shadows, you see things falling apart, furniture being rearranged. You live with it, so I believe what you see. Now, my scientific people don't give a shit what you think. They want to see it on film. They want to see a full-fledged spirit. Sometimes we get something, sometimes we don't.
Why are we sometimes haunted by spirits?
When you get killed, your spirit stays where it is because it's confused. ...You get shot, you're dead: "Oh my God, where am I?" The only safe place they know is right there where they got shot, so they stay there. When you die, your spirit hangs around to make sure your loved ones are OK, and that everything is peaceful. It's called "unfinished business." ... Say a child-molester got killed, and he was evil when he was alive. His body is dead, but his spirit is still there, and he still wreaks havoc on people.
Have you ever encountered a demonic spirit?
Oh my God, yes! The worst demonic spirit that I had was in Leechburg. One of my group members was getting harassed, and she felt very uneasy. This guy was pure evil. I saw [my group member], and I said, "What's wrong?" She was being pushed, pinched, shoved. They get into your brain. If you show fear, they live off of that. She was freaking out. I said, "He's here, isn't he?" She said, "Can you please get rid of him?" And I did.
How do you get rid of spirits?
I use God. People would put me in Western Psych if I told you how I did it.
What do you hear most from skeptics?
"I need to see it on film." I let them do their spiel. Then I tell them, "I will respect what you believe in just as long as you respect what I believe in." That shuts them up.
On Paranormal State, the investigators sometimes find that clients are mentally ill ...
Oh yeah, tons of people.
If that's the case, do you abort the mission?
I'm not a doctor, I'm not a psychologist. But I can tell when you call me on the phone if there is something wrong with you or not. If I know that these people aren't right, I try to be as nice as I can and tell them, "No, we're not going to come. You need help."
What do you feel when dealing with spirits during an investigation?
A lot of anger. A lot of sadness. ... I can feel what they're feeling, and it's a lot of anger that they're still here.