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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 had 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 are 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 got mixed up. The story I presented above comes from the earliest and longest copy of the article I could track.

        I find it strange that while the story is based in the United States, it first appeared in European and Asian news services. From an archive snapshot copy of Kurtz's Facebook page, it's clear that Kurtz was either contacted by or submitted the story to a reporter in England, which is why the story was published in Europe and Asia on November 14, and didn't start to appear in United States based web news until November 16. Facebook-wise, Kurtz apparently posted the initial story and photos in August 2016, so there was plenty of time for the story to find an audience; and apparently her daughter now wears her seatbelt, though it's a question whether the ghost or the "hundreds of people making comments" in Facebook was responsible for it.

        What appears to be the original Facebook posting was pulled down before I got a chance to see it, on November 17, just three days after the story was released. Strangely, Melissa Kurtz's Facebook page is now missing almost all of its posts for 2016, and this had to have happened after the snapshot copy was created around November 16... so it looks like she either deliberately removed all of her posts for the year, or just switched them all to a non-public display. Maybe the Facebook page was getting too much traffic or too many negative comments.

         Luckily, a forum in the Metabunk website was started to examine the photo on November 16, with a definite purpose of trying to expose it as explainable... and I say "luckily" because, having started before Kurtz's Facebook page on the story came down meant that the Metabunk page was able to copy some useful information from the page before it went down. I'll discuss the Metabunk's opinion of the photo 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, an object that matches what appears to be the shirt in the second image is visible just past the girl's ear... so the figure scooted to the 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.

        The Metabunk's examination of the photo was pretty straightforward: they said it was 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 (along with 5 other unnamed experts, according to Kurtz), 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 it 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.