DANVILLE, Va. (AP) - If you're wondering about those weird sounds in the night or odd shapes in the dark corners of your home, look no further. Danville has its own ghost hunters they call themselves Virginia Investigation of Paranormal Science , or VIPS.
President Max McGregor and vice president Will Moore started the group in January and have investigated two homes in Pittsylvania County for supernatural activity so far this year.
McGregor said he understands those skeptical of what he's doing. About three years ago, he didn't think spirits existed, either. But after watching TV shows on haunted houses and ghost hunting, he became a true believer and VIPS was born.
"I didn't believe it (in ghosts)," McGregor said during an interview at Starbucks along Piedmont Drive on Thursday afternoon. "After a while, it kind of grows on you."
The nonprofit group includes 13 members and offers its services free of charge.
"We incorporate common sense with original and innovative techniques, ideas and philosophies, along with attempting to debunk claims of activity while keeping an open mind," according to VIPS' mission statement on its website, ghostvips.yolasite.com. "We are not out to prove skeptics wrong or a believer right, we just provide evidence, recommendations and allow the client to be the judge."
McGregor said he makes no money from his full-time hobby/vocation and the organization operates on donations that pay for its equipment.
Ghost-hunting tools include digital video and audio recorders, digital cameras and electromagnetic field detectors. Investigators also use a laser grid that shoots beams all over a room. If the lasers break, McGregor attributes it to paranormal activity.
The home's lights are turned off and appliances are unplugged during investigations since they give off electromagnetic fields.
An investigation can take from two to four hours, depending on the home's size, McGregor said. Three teams of two people each cover different sections of the home, swapping rooms to determine if they all find the same phenomena, McGregor said.
VIPS' investigators will write up a report and review the findings with their clients.
Sonja Ingram, a VIPS member and a field representative for Historic Preservation Virginia, would like to tie the group's activities with historic preservation, since reports of hauntings typically come from old homes.
"It would be a way for younger people to get involved in preservation," Ingram said.
The group investigated Ingram's 1920s-built farm house in Keeling in March. VIPS also combed the Oak Ridge home, built in 1835 and located on Berry Hill Road, for paranormal activity a few weeks ago.
Ghosts, or non-human body life forms, emit an electromagnetic field (EMF), McGregor said. A person experiencing ghosts in their home may feel nausea, fatigue, sudden temperature drops in the air or a feeling of being watched, he said.
Ghosts cannot be seen or heard by most people but VIPS' equipment will detect imperceptible sights and sounds, McGregor said. Some people may be more sensitive and be able to see or hear ghosts, he said.
"Some people can see it or sense it more than others," McGregor said. "It all depends on the person and how they perceive things."
Typical hauntings are nothing to be frightened about, he added.
"The only time someone should really be afraid is if the spirit is really disrupting their life, if it's scaring a child," McGregor said. About 90 percent of reported hauntings "are not what you would call aggressive," he said.
"Most of the time, they (ghosts) have some sort of connection to the house or to someone who lives in the house," he said.
VIPS vice president Moore said people may request their services to find out of a spirit could be an ancestor or to communicate. The experience can give the client reassurance that there is nothing to be afraid of, Moore said.
The group investigated Ingram's home because visitors have said they have observed odd occurrences in her home such as the bathroom light switch moving up and down.
Ingram said she has heard people talking in her home even though it is far from the highway. Previous owners said they heard a child crying or a ghostly cat on the stairs.
"At this point, I just ignore it," Ingram said. "It doesn't bother me."
VIPS' report noted a "heavy feeling" in one room that moved into the master bedroom. Equipment also picked up four "EVPs" electronic voice phenomenon and two EMF spikes.
Membership in VIPS also enables Ingram to indulge a passion of hers exploring historic homes.
"It's cool," she said. "We get to go into historic homes that are not open to the public."
Elaine Lenk, who lives in the Oak Ridge home with her husband, Bob, said the group investigated their house a couple of weeks ago after an arrangement through a mutual friend. Lenk said they are skeptics and have not seen or heard ghostly activity in their home.
The Lenks are awaiting VIPS' results and will listen to what the investigators have to say,