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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Paranormal investigators hunt for Tucson ghosts

    Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Dail
    Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat Nicole Amy (black shirt), historical investigator, Hector Barragan (black shirt with headlight), Investigative coordinator, Jim Rundel (big camera), Tech manager, and Laura Ziegler (flashlight), case manager, make up Southern Arizona Ghost and Paranormal Society, also known as G.A.P.S.

    Ghost stories are a dime a dozen in an old, desert city like Tucson, but a group of local paranormal investigators are on the hunt to bust myth from reality.

    The Southern Arizona Ghost & Paranormal Society has been investigating things that go bump in the night since 2007 and has completed at least 200 investigations. Unlike the sensationalized antics seen on “Ghost Hunters,” this group approaches each new case with scientific skepticism.

    Armed with cameras, temperature detectors and seismographs, the team of four is more concerned with collecting data than about corroborating a spooky story. From all the footage, numbers and audio recordings those in the group have gathered, they have yet to document definitive, video proof of something they couldn’t explain.

    “It’s hard being at the right place at the right time,” said Hector Barragan, founder of SAGAPS. Barragan is a local videographer who founded SAGAPS with Jim Rundel, an old high school buddy. Barragan and Rundel were looking to form a group more focused on the science behind paranormal phenomenon rather than the entertainment.

    Laura Ziegler, an administrator of an assisted living facility, quickly joined the duo as the team’s case manager. Ziegler does much of the historical research the team conducts whenever starting a new case. When a local homeowner contacts SAGAPS about a potential haunting at their residence, Ziegler typically performs a full background check on previous owners of the residence and the geological composition surrounding the area.

    “It all comes down to energy,” said Ziegler, a UA alumna. One gadget SAGAPS investigates with is an ion detector, which measures positive and negative ions permeating in the air. Ziegler said an abundance of positive ions typically results in someone experiencing a paranormal encounter.

    SAGAPS has found electromagnetic fields to be a reoccurring cause for many instances presumed to be from beyond the grave, such as hearing voices. Microwaves, cell phones and clock radios are all household appliances the investigators measure for electromagnetic activity.

    When conducting an investigation on the 22nd Street Antique Mall, the SAGAPS team claims to have detected strong electromagnetic activity emanating from the back of the store. The antique store is home to a number of good ghost stories, and even catalogs all its ghostly tales in a journal at the front desk.

    Unexplained occurrences of items flying off shelves and furniture moving out of place have been reported since co-manager Kathy Sevits began working at the store over a decade ago. Sevits said she is not bothered by these unnerving instances, as she said she believes the spirits to be the rightful owners of the store’s antiques.

    “They are so attached, sometimes they stay with their items,” Sevits said.

    The SAGAPS team members try not to buy into these types of theories when conducting their investigations. Instead, relying more on the innovative ideas of paranormal researcher David Rountree as a launch pad, SAGAPS considers everything from wormholes to rock minerals when finding scientific explanations for their cases.

    “You’re constantly learning,” Rundel said. “There’s so much you could delve up out of the rabbit’s hole.”

    Contamination is a word often used among paranormal investigators when debunking myths or legends. When SAGAPS records audio of mysterious, ghostly noises during an investigation, they can typically trace the source to neighboring activity contaminating the airwaves. This was the case when the team recently visited the infamous Bird Cage Theatre in Tombstone.

    Littered with bullet holes from the gun-slinging days of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, the Bird Cage Theatre was reportedly the site of 26 deaths during its lifetime. During their investigation, SAGAPS heard suspicious scratching coming from inside the walls. The television show “Ghost Adventures” reported similar paranormal encounters, except that SAGAPS was able to trace the source to small animals running rampant in the building’s interior.

    A tactic SAGAPS employed during its investigation at the Bird Cage Theatre is tempting potential spirits with props or taunts. At one point, Rundel dressed himself as a Wild West outlaw to try and conjure activity from entrapped spirits within the old saloon. Rundel explains that they typically use this method at locations that have been the source of numerous paranormal claims.

    During a casual visit to the Bird Cage Theatre, the newest member of the SAGAPS team, Nicole Amy, claims to have experienced someone or something grabbing her hair. Amy says she joined the group because of the professional approach SAGAPS practices with its high standards of data collection.

    “I want to see something with my own eyes,” Amy said. She recalled one of her most unexplainable, personal occurrences that took place aboard the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., where she reported catching a quick glance of a 1940s-dressed businessman.

    Amy said she is excited to begin working with the high-tech equipment SAGAPS uses in the few cases it takes on each month.SAGAPS has conducted full-length investigations at Arizona landmarks such as Old Tucson Studios, the Jerome Grand Hotel and the Vulture Mine in Maricopa County. The team has ambitions to investigate more historical locations, and is in the process of trying to get in the door of the Fox Tucson Theatre in downtown. Tales of ghosts haunting the Fox Tucson Theatre’s projection room have been the source of a lot of Halloween amusement over the years, yet the SAGAPS team members remain undisturbed by the chilling stories they hear on a daily basis.

    “I think real life is a lot more frightening,” Ziegler said.


    Follow Kevin C. Reagan on Twitter.

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