When I was seventeen-years-old, I remember being absolutely captivated by shows about the paranormal. When the television series, Scariest Places on Earth, aired on YTV, I was hooked. I found the world of the paranormal fascinating and tragic, spending so much time researching and writing about it that I found myself completely overtaken by the subject. When the television series, Paranormal State, premiered December 10, 2007, I was instantly hooked. Not only did it offer a deeper look into the mysterious world of the unknown, but it opened the door for many of the investigation series that we now have.
Paranormal State follows a group of investigators from Penn State University who travel to different places investigating the paranormal and trying to help people troubled by unseen entities that exist in their homes. I watched the show religiously and was so disappointed when it came to an end. Of course, that didn’t stop me from continuing my research and my fascination with the paranormal. Thanks to social media and the ability to communicate freely, I was lucky to get the chance to conduct a short interview with the show’s lead investigator, Ryan Buell.
PopHorror: What started your work with the paranormal, and what triggered you to take on the project, Paranormal State?
Ryan Buell: It’s funny, I was actually about to graduate from college [at Penn State], and I was starting to think to myself, “Maybe I should take a break from paranormal investigation.” PRS had already become a full-time endeavor at that point, but it certainly wasn’t paying the bills, and I knew that it was time to start thinking about life beyond college. I was just starting to put a plan in place to hand PRS off to students who were a couple of years behind me when suddenly, we got the offer to do a pilot. So I said, “Okay, this will be a fun experience. Why not?” We shot the pilot in April 2006, and I graduated in May. Two months later, A&E greenlit the project.
Aside from that, I decided to be open to the idea of doing a show because I thought it would help promote awareness of the paranormal. Back in the mid-2000s, there really wasn’t a lot of discussion about this kind of stuff. It was still a taboo topic. The other reason is that a show would allow us the means to travel the country and do cases. We never charged clients for investigations, and we were broke college students, so having a network offer to pay us and cover the cost of the investigations felt like a win. Never did I think it was going to become a huge phenomenon.
PopHorror: I have known so many people who love Paranormal State. For many of them, it was what inspired them to become investigators. Do you miss investigating?
Ryan Buell: That really means a lot. Do I miss investigating? I do and I don’t. I don’t miss being in the public eye so much. I was young and very introverted—I still am—so going from a quirky, weird college student who investigates ghosts to TV celebrity was a shock to the system. The good outweighed the bad, but towards the end of Paranormal State, I was mentally unhealthy and needing a break. I do miss helping people, and recently, I decided to train a small group of individuals to go on a couple cases with me. So I WILL be returning to conducting private investigations. And when it comes to doing another show, that’s something I’ve had regular discussions about for the past few years. The TV landscape is changing, so that’s delayed things a bit. And I want to make sure that if I do agree to devote another 5-7 years to a show, that I am mentally healthy and comfortable enough to do that. I take the work that I do very seriously. We live with the clients, and we spend a lot of time and resources on each case, and that can be exhausting. I also want to make sure I can balance that with a healthy life.
PopHorror: When working with the paranormal, there is a certain reality that is a lot scarier than what Hollywood perceives. Did you ever come across a case that was not a real haunting but just the chaos of energies from things like negative surroundings?
Ryan Buell: Oh yeah, all the time. Both privately and during Paranormal State. There was a lot of stuff we didn’t include in episodes because it was extremely personal and private. And sometimes a little too controversial for the network, which I understood. When you think of a paranormal investigator, you may imagine people walking around with tech and talking to dead people, but 90% of the time, we’re dealing with real-world issues. Addiction, abuse, trauma, suicidal tendencies, mental illness… That doesn’t mean those things can’t occur alongside paranormal phenomenon. In fact, in many instances, it does. But sometimes, we’ve had to call police or submit a report because we felt one of the clients was a harm to themselves or others. I’ve been threatened with violence before. We’ve witnessed some very dark stuff.
PopHorror: What was the most terrifying case you had to deal with and why?
Ryan Buell: When I think about my most terrifying case, sometimes it varies depending on how I’m feeling on a given day. But one case is always in the top three, the one we nicknamed The Hellmouth. This case took place before Paranormal State. It happened in 2005 in Pittsburgh, PA, with former commissioner Bob Cranmer and his family. We were called in by the Catholic Church to consult on the case. They needed evidence in order to get approval for a formal rite of exorcism. We saw blood on the walls, saw shadowy black masses appear and disappear, witnessed levitations, possession… And when we took on the case, stuff happened to me at my own home. There was so much activity. It was unrelenting. It really made me question my faith and the existence of demons and the Devil. I only mention the client’s name because years later, he went public and opened up about the haunting. He wrote a book, The Demon of Brownsville Road. I can’t go back to Pittsburgh without thinking of that case.
PopHorror: Was there any repercussions from dealing with negative entities?
Ryan Buell: Yes. During the Hellmouth case, I was warned that, because I was now on the chessboard regarding the good and the evil, the demonic were aware of me and they would always remember the part I played in helping this family. That wasn’t the only demonic case I’ve done. It is very hard to articulate what a real demonic case is like. When people ask, I talk about the physical manifestations, like levitations or the possessed speaking in languages not known to them, because that’s something people can easily understand. But the real traumatic stuff, the stuff that keeps you up at night, is all the subtle, weird stuff. Your phone ringing off the hook and all you hear is growling. Knockings and bangings on your wall when you’re hundreds of miles away from the case. Your car suddenly losing control and being a heartbeat from death, then suddenly resuming control. The nightmarish dreams that plague you for weeks and months. And some of these dreams are so vivid and real that you can’t help but feel it’s a visitation itself. It’s almost like being stalked or harassed by a powerful corporation, only this corporation is something faceless and otherworldly. And when you try to describe it to people, you sound crazy. But those who experience it with you, they’ll never forget that feeling.
PopHorror: Do you still feel sometimes haunted by the things you had to witness?
Ryan Buell: A little bit. I’ve had some years to let the dust settle and focus on other things. I think I was doing quite a lot of work in the paranormal at a very fast pace. By the time I was 28, I had already consulted or conducted hundreds of investigations as well as worked with law enforcement and clergy. I had my own demons to struggle with. There’s definitely trauma that paranormal investigators experience, especially those who work with families. It’s no different than how counselors or doctors have trauma from working with hundreds of patients. This is why it was important for me to take a break.
PopHorror: What was it like working with Chip Coffey?
Ryan Buell: Chip wasn’t THE Chip Coffey when I met him, nor was I THE Ryan Buell when he met me. I’d heard of him from a mutual friend, Dave Schrader, who knew I was looking to work with a psychic on a regular basis. We had tried a handful before. What made Chip work was he was relatable, and he could sit and have a conversation with ANYONE for hours. We could be doing a case down a dirt road at a farmhouse or working with clients in a city. He was able to connect with them, and he was able to help express the emotions that the potential spirits were feeling.
PopHorror: Were there any cases or moments where you felt genuinely terrified beyond reason?
Ryan Buell: I definitely felt fearful for my life during Hellmouth as well as a couple other cases, for sure.
PopHorror: Social media can be a huge negative aspect in someone’s life, and you have such a inspirational and brave story. It’s remarkable and insightful. Do you have any future plans for more television shows or podcasts?.
Ryan Buell: Thank you. Most of my fans know that I struggled with depression and severe drug addiction. Many of them were shocked to see me go from a very successful and articulate person to suddenly acting out and not showing up to events… Addiction doesn’t discriminate. And I suffered through addiction for about seven years. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of and will always be sorry for. And when I got clean, it was hard to see the negative comments. Some people would say things like, “Why don’t you just hurry up and overdose so that the world can be a better place?” When someone is early in recovery, that is VERY hard to read.
But I finally had a good support group around me. It took time, and I kept showing my face. What’s kind of funny is, even before I ever fell into drug addiction, like when State first debuted, there were hateful comments. People I never met HATED me. It was so weird. Eventually, you train yourself to realize it’s all on the computer. So you close the computer and go be with your friends and family, and things are okay. But yeah, it was hard at times. Do I have any places for a new show? I am regularly working with an old producer from State to develop a new show. Covid really interrupted those plans, but I am a firm believer that it will happen when it’s meant to.
PopHorror: Do you miss investigating and helping people and putting spirits to rest?
Ryan Buell: I do, but I am making plans to return to private investigating in early 2022. I am currently training a small group of people who will accompany me on these investigations. I’m taking baby steps to get back out there.
PopHorror: Where I’m from, there are many places untouched by investigators such as the St. Louis Light. If you ever had the chance, would you travel and investigate in other countries?
Ryan Buell: Oh my Lord, for sure. I’d love to investigate other countries and be challenged with working with different cultures on how they perceive and deal with the spirit world.
PopHorror: Ryan, its been a privilege to do this interview with you. I hope to talk to you more in the future as you triggered a deep love of the paranormal for me, not just going out with a camera and a recorder but delving into the history and investigating the land and energies. You were one of the first reality investigators of the paranormal, and I thank you so very much for this amazing opportunity.
Ryan Buell: Thank you again for the opportunity!
I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to Ryan Buell for doing this interview with me and allowing me to take a deeper look into his life as a investigator and as a person. As many people say, life can be tough, and Ryan, despite addiction and being ill, has always been someone I’ve admired. Regardless of the past, I am looking forward to the what the future will bring for Ryan and the paranormal community at Penn State.