A news article out of Mentor, Ohio attracted my attention this past week. The article claimed that local residents were observing strange, “mysterious” incidents and reporting them on their neighborhood Facebook page. Then, on the night of March 10, someone called the police. The police report was real. The local news station obtained a copy of a front door camera recording that showed what appears at first glance to be a child-sized person running from a house towards a wooded area on the right side of the screen. The timestamp showed no date but a time of 10:16 PM.
The article itself suggests that this thing in the video may be a ghost, which is the primary reason I came upon it. I don’t think you can capture a ghost on camera (or in any other way) but the video was interesting and the article was more intriguing than typically awful “ghosts caught on camera” for several other reasons.
First, here is the text of the article.* It’s important to note what information is and isn’t provided:
The Haunting of Lake County? Mentor residents spot “ghosts” in security and doorbell footage
Whether you believe in ghosts and spirits or not, many people find the topic to be interesting and entertaining, especially in Mentor, Ohio.
Author: Kelly Matter, Hope Sloop
Published: 3:19 PM EDT March 22, 2021
MENTOR, Ohio — Do you believe in ghosts?
It’s a question that many Lake County residents have found themselves asking over the past few weeks due to “supernatural haunts” caught on video.
In recent weeks, members in Mentor, Ohio Facebook groups have posted videos and images of a “mysterious” object or person. This mysterious image appears to be all white and moving very quickly. WKYC was able to obtain some of those images and videos from residents.
3News spoke with officials from the Mentor Police Department and were even able to retrieve the police report based on information that was sent.
In the report, it states that police officers were dispatched on March 10 around 10:40 p.m., to the area of Bellflower Elementary in reference to a suspicious incident.
The caller reported seeing a 7-year-old girl running northbound in the area. As one officer approached Wyatt’s Greenhouse, he spotted a child fitting the description from the caller.
“I was surprised by what I saw, the person appeared to be a small child, running rather erect and too quickly for a child,” the report says.
When the officer got out of the vehicle to try and catch the child, nobody was in the area. The officer continued along the building expecting to see a child crying, or scared, but still no signs of anyone.
Multiple other departments were searching the area and had no luck finding a child. After the search, the responding officer checked the dashcam video and found no child on the dashcam video, which was saved as an “investigative encounter.”
Shortly after trying to find the child on foot and the use of a K9, the drone team was deployed to search the responding area and did not locate anything suspicious.
Is it really ghosts? Could it just be young pranksters? Who knows!
The article, or its content, was repeated on multiple websites with an emphasis on the paranormal aspect. I searched for other information but was not able to find more details. Let’s examine the article itself: it’s vague and somewhat confusing. Does the video relate to the police incident directly? We are given some local features but not precise details. Did the police question the neighbors on this night? What did they find? What about the other incidents and videos mentioned? These obvious questions go unanswered.
As I said, I don’t think this is a ghost, but it is a bit weird. The police incident occurred on a Wednesday night, after 10PM, which is an odd time for a child to be running around. There were reasonable grounds to take this report seriously. The video shows a figure with what appears to be bare legs – maybe the person was wearing shorts or a skirt/dress. Yet, the upper body is not distinguishable. Resolution is lost likely because the camera is far away and the subject is in low light conditions. Such devices are not meant to capture this kind of movement. Because of what are almost certainly artifacts from the recording process that distort the object, we can’t get the degree of detail needed to see what it really is. This lack of detail, and perhaps video compression distortion, will lead some people who are predisposed to believe in supernatural events to suggest it’s a ghost, not a corporeal being. Promotion of the supernatural angle made the clip go viral.
People reading this story will typically assume this is all there is to it and make their conclusion based on what they are given in line with their preexisting worldview. So, some will say it’s a spooky video showing a ghost child (which is the trending view) and others say it’s just a person (so why is this news?). Yet others say it’s a moth, or a reflection, or something else mundane. After covering weird news for seven years on Doubtful News, I know very well that media outlets get things wrong or leave important facts out more often than not. Mostly, they don’t do any investigation at all but just report what they are told. In this case, at least they had a potentially related police report – a bit of evidence that added credibility to the ghost idea but created more questions while providing no answers.
I was curious about what the video really showed and if these ubiquitous doorbell cameras often capture ambiguous events that can be interpreted as paranormal. (Yes, they do. Some also appear to be deliberately staged.) Also, what if it is a child in the video? It’s might be concerning that a child would be speeding through yards at this time of night. Ghost theories aside, I wanted to know what this was and why it looked strange.
If this was MY video, I would not be giving it to the news before I did some very obvious and basic tests. First, I’d find out if this was someone from that nearby house. If not, I would try to recreate the event at the same time of night by having a person run the same path and compare the two videos to see how the camera represented a person of known size and speed.
From the clues in the article, I was able to go on Google maps street view and actually located the site within about 5 minutes of searching. I was able to match up the mailbox, landscaping and driveway of the house and turned the view across the street. I don’t want to give the address here because, understandably, the residents would not want people poking around their street and properties. But here is the view from the street looking towards the area of the video. Unfortunately, these dudes in the Silverado passed by the Google cam.
Notice a few interesting things here. First, the sidewalk ends here. There is a worn area in the grass along the edge of the treeline where the figure in the video appeared. There is a clearing in the direction the object went. And, there is a rock-lined culvert nearby that is close to the road. The culvert appears to lead to a stream or wet area with nearby walking paths near the school. But there is no logical path that would lead to the side of the grey house. There is a logical path that comes out on a road past the culvert on the far right. So, if this figure is a person, he/she has cut close to this house from what looks like a public area. If this was a jogger, that would be odd to cut through a yard. And, it would be reasonable to think such a person (or another jogger) would have been caught on camera before doing a similar thing making it seem less weird. However, what I’m missing here is local context and photos more recent than 2 years ago. I’d bet that the answer is mundane so it’s unusual to see such a big deal made out of it.
I’m at a loss to find out more information for several reasons: I’m not local. I don’t have the time or inclination to contact the police for their report (it’s not readily available online), and I don’t have access, nor do I think I deserve access, to the private neighborhood Facebook group to see these other videos. So, I contacted the local paranormal society, gave them the address, and asked if they could check out the location. Maybe they could see if there was a reasonable explanation for someone to be running this way and if a jogger was to blame for the hubbub. Maybe they could do some measurements. It appeared they had not done anything with such a tasty case that had dropped right into their lap. They responded that they are checking it out. Sure, sure.
I’m posting this for two reasons. First, perhaps someone local might see it and provide the additional info I seek. As I said, the story is popular and the information is only from that single source. I’m interested in why these stories spread like they do. Second, no one seems to have thought about this incident in a more critical way. So, perhaps that might be appreciated. It took very little time to look up some basic facts. This might be a good reminder that when we are presented with sensational news stories, we should always be skeptical. Think about what’s been left out or what deliberate spin was put on it for what reason. These articles get clicks, and they normalize ideas about so-called paranormal events occurring around us. As usual, the evidence is poor and unchecked. It is extremely unlikely this is anything more unusual than a person running through the neighborhood.
Finally, what about the cop who said he saw a running child? I don’t think this is too weird. He was investigating a report of child. (Presumably he was, it’s not altogether clear) Therefore, he may have seen something vague and interpreted it in that way as he was focused on that idea. He was motivated to observe something strange and so he fulfilled this intent in his own mind. It’s not so surprising that the claims were taken seriously enough to call out dogs, a drone, and other police departments. I hope this is a lesson to the police too who are not above reporting their personal interpretations instead of just the facts.
Mentor has their own local ghost lore. Several strange incidents seem to have been strung together into this haunt-themed narrative. Taken collectively, the situation shows that we very easily fall into traps of assuming certain things happened for definitive reasons when they actually are heavily dependent on our personal interpretations. Just like one commenter on the video certainly sees a ghost child but the next commenter chastises the gullible people who see something other than a running person, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Many people really really want it to be a ghost, so that’s as far as they will go to investigate. Time and repetition turn it into a legend. The truth is lost.
If you have additional information on this incident, please contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you.
*I have copied the text because these pieces often disappear from the internet or go behind a pay wall. For purposes of examining the details presented, I needed to cite the entire piece.