2016, July 9: The Boy in the Backseat

On November 14, 2016, a mother's strange story of finding both a face where it shouldn't be and the identity that went with it spread across news websites worldwide.

        The story was very straightforward. The mother, Melissa Kurtz, stated that on July 9 she had been driving on a highway in the Maitland area of Florida, near Orlando, to take her 13-year-old daughter, Harper, to a beauty pageant. During the drive her daughter became bored and started to snap pictures of herself with her mother's camera. About a month later, Mrs. Kurtz was going through the photos in her camera for another event when she came across the selfies and saw something that shouldn't have been in them...

Harper's selfie
Harper's selfie [Larger version here]

... what appeared to be a boy in the seat behind her daughter! At the time the photo was taken Kurtz and Harper were the only people in the car, so there was no good explanation for why an additional figure would appear in the photo.

        Mrs. Kurtz was very shocked by the discovery at the time, but soon came to be curious about it. She felt her daughter was "a magnet for paranormal activity," so Kurtz did two things. First, she asked a number of Paranormal specialists to examine the picture. Second, she started to research the history of the road to see if any events had happened there that might explain the strange photo. Her efforts turned up the fact that a fatal car accident had occurred on the same road exactly one year earlier from the day the photo was snapped; but other than the fact that someone was flown to hospital by helicopter, Kurtz was unable to find out more. Her own personal suspicion was that the victim was a child and that this was the reason people were not giving her more information.

        One of the specialists who looked the photo over stated that it appeared the figure in the back was reaching forward towards Harper, as what looks like two fingers are by her ear (the top of one finger making the 'frown' shape on the face), possibly to flash the 'Peace' hand sign. It was also suggested by another expert, Greg Pocha, that the entity might have been there to try to warn Harper to wear her seatbelt -- which she wasn't, and apparently hadn't for two years (Mrs. Kurtz stated she'd gotten thirteen tickets because of it!). Pocha suggested that the boy was likely a ghost, and that he may not even know he is dead.

        Mrs. Kurtz's final take on the whole matter was that it proved the existence of life after death, and that the ghost was that of a boy who died a year earlier in the car accident. She also felt that the figure was just being playful with his fingers, "like he is putting rabbit ears up behind her [Harper]."

        A last quote from Mrs. Kurtz: "When I saw the date of the accident I cried as we picked up that boy that died one year ago on this road, on his way to hospital. When I saw there was an accident in that place I choked up.

        “There are accidents there frequently. It’s a dangerous stretch of road.

Where to Start?

        There were a number of oddities in this report and the public reaction to it, starting with the fact that the first release of the article was quite long... and as it was trimmed down by different websites, some of the details appeared to get mixed up. The story I present above comes from the earliest and longest copy of the article I could track. I also found it strange that while the story is based in the United States, it first appeared in European and Asian news services.

        These oddities were explained by Melissa Kurtz herself, who messaged me to offer up that she had been contacted by the UK reporter with the Irish Sun after they had been told of the story by a member of the Edinburgh Fountain Society, who likely ran across Kurtz's original post on Facebook. The interview with the Irish Sun is the only actual interview that Kurtz gave, which was published on November 14... all other accounts of the matter started appearing on November 16, with other news services either copying from the Irish Sun or, in some cases, creating their own version.

         Facebook-wise, Kurtz initially posted the story and photos in August 2016; but it was then set to private viewing on November 17, after the viral spread of the story through news services. Harper's life was disrupted by the unexpected amount of public attention, to the point where she couldn't go anywhere, including school, without people pestering her... which is why the Facebook account was switched to private, as Mrs. Kurtz had to take steps to get Harper's life back to normal.

         On November 16, the day before Kurtz set the Facebook account to private, a forum was started in the Metabunk website by user Mick West with the definite purpose of trying to explain away the photo... and, because he started the before the change was made to the Facebook account, West was able to download the original photos related to the event. I'll discuss West's opinion of the photo in the Metabunk website in a short while; for right now, it's important to note that the strange figure apparently appeared in two of Harper's selfies, taken consecutively.

Comparison of Two Selfies
Comparison of two selfies [Larger version here]

In the first of the two images, an object that matches what appears to be the shirt in the second image is visible just past the Harper's ear... so it appears the figure scooted to its right to be visible in the second picture, while apparently raising a hand. This is suggestive of an actual intelligent figure being in the car, physically or not. West's examination of the photo was pretty straightforward: he felt the photo details were most consistent with someone actually being in the backseat and both Mrs. Kurtz and her daughter "forgeting" the fact... which is nicer than accusing them of lying, but much the same thing.

        Greg Pocha, a paranormal expert who examined the photo found no evidence the photo was manufactured or inconsistent with the possibility of a figure actually being photographed; and, while being careful to state that he was not confirming the figure was a ghost -- despite what the news story indicated -- he did say that if Mrs. Kurtz was telling the truth about only two people being in the car, then this would be a paranormal photo. So, both non-believers in ghosts and believers in ghosts agree on one thing; there was something in the car when the photos were taken.

        So the question of whether the unknown figure is a ghost or not depends mostly on whether Mrs. Kurtz told the truth... and that's up to each of you to decide in this case.