Parents of third-grade students in a rural West Texas school district are up in arms after a teacher showed her classroom a scary video about a demon-possessed doll — and then warned the children not to tell their parents about it. The teacher is now back in the classroom.
New Home, Texas is a small, close-knit community just south of Lubbock. The 2010 Census reported a population of just 334. The New Home Independent School District (ISD) only has one school, attended by all children from kindergarten through high school. The area is so rural that high-school students play six-man football to make it easier for the small class to field a team. There are about 28 children in the third grade in New Home, divided into two classes.
Breitbart Texas spoke to Ryan Hyatt, father of a student in the class of third-grade teacher Heather Anderson. Anderson, one of the two third-grade teachers at New Home ISD, was grading papers during class on March 9, while showing videos to the students to keep them occupied. On that day, she selected several videos from the “Mysteries at the Museum” series produced by the Travel Channel.
The video causing the controversy is “Annabelle the Devil Doll,” which tells the story of a “Raggedy Ann” style doll kept at The Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut. The museum’s owners, Ed and Lorraine Warren, claim that the doll is possessed by an evil spirit, so they keep it under lock and key.
Early in the video, the narrator ominously warns that the Warrens “believe that Annabelle has the power to kill…this is no ordinary doll.”
The video shows how a nursing student who owned Annabelle in the 1970s would come home to find the doll posed in different positions than she left it, and discover handwritten notes lying on the floor that said “help me.” The nursing student consults a medium, who tells her the doll is possessed by a dead child named Annabelle Higgins.
The video includes a reenactment of the doll attacking the nursing student’s friend Lou while he was napping at the apartment. The nursing student contacts the Warrens, who say they believe the doll is possessed not by a little girl, but by a demon.
The video includes both modern-day interviews with Mrs. Warren, and a reenactment of the Warrens’ terrifying drive home after they picked up the doll, with the car’s steering repeatedly losing control and the engine stalling. Ed Warren stops the car, sprinkles holy water on the doll, and makes the sign of the cross. “Ed’s actions may have saved their lives,” the narrator intones seriously.
The Warrens place Annabelle in a locked cabinet for safekeeping. Several years later, a young man visits their museum and is skeptical about the doll’s power. He approaches the cabinet and challenges the doll to demonstrate its power. “Three hours later, this young man was dead. He died instantly when he hit a tree head-on with his motorcycle,” says the narrator, as bright red blood is shown dripping down the mask of a motorcycle helmet.
It’s obvious why this video would be so upsetting to young children. It has a horror-film plot (in fact, the Annabelle story was the inspiration for the hit 2013 film The Conjuring, and was explored more thoroughly in a 2014 prequel, Annabelle) but the story is presented as a documentary, with the narrator and all adults appearing in the film discussing supernatural occurrences like demon possession as matters of fact. The reenactment segments, depicting injuries to Lou and the motorcycle accident apparently caused by the doll, add a disturbing dash of realism to the tale.
According to Hyatt, his son showed signs of severe distress after he saw the “Annabelle” video in class. He had trouble sleeping, began shaking uncontrollably when it was time for bed, and asked for the family dog to be allowed to sleep in his room, because he was scared of being alone. He has also been waking up several times each night.
Hyatt and his wife originally thought their son had been exposed to a frightening movie by another student. They were shocked to learn the video had been screened for their son’s class by their teacher. After questioning their son, he told them that he and several of his classmates cried and were upset after watching the “Annabelle” film, but Anderson dismissed the students’ concerns, warning them not to tell their parents because she “didn’t want text messages saying you can’t sleep.”
The Hyatts and several other parents of children in the class complained. As Mrs. Hyatt wrote in her statement to New Home Elementary School Principal Shane Fiedler, “I am completely mortified that this video was allowed in our kid’s class. I can’t believe that a teacher would allow that video in their class.”
On March 27, Fiedler placed Anderson on administrative leave to conduct an investigation. “You should receive an envelope today in your child’s take-home folder, regarding the showing of an inappropriate video in class. We sincerely apologize and are working to address this issue. Please feel free to contact Mr. Fiedler should you have any questions,” said a voice mail message left for parents by New Home ISD.
According to Hyatt, Anderson was not supposed to contact the students or parents while she was on administrative leave. However, on the morning of April 7, Anderson went to his wife’s workplace and confronted her about her complaints, saying that the video was being blown out of proportion and it should not have been a big deal.
Hyatt told Breitbart Texas that his wife felt ambushed by Anderson showing up unannounced at her place of employment. “That’s not how you make this right,” he said.
Later that day, his wife spoke to the superintendent, who informed her that they were allowing Anderson to return to the classroom. The Hyatts decided to transfer their son to another area school district.
“It killed us to make that decision,” said Hyatt, saying they hated to pull their son from the school and classmates he knew, but they were not comfortable leaving him in Anderson’s classroom. They were also worried that he might face retribution, since the teacher clearly knew which parents had complained. Fortunately, their son seems to be adjusting well to the new school. “He’s been a real trooper,” said Hyatt.
KLBK-Lubbock covered the story last month, and filed a public records request with the New Home ISD, seeking more information about the complaints filed by parents against Anderson, and how the investigation was conducted. Hyatt told Breitbart Texas that the response to the public records request was only a few pages of heavily redacted material, and he knows it was an incomplete response because the complaint filed by his wife was not included. “They’re not interested in protecting the kids,” said Hyatt, clearly frustrated.
Currently, Anderson is back in the classroom, but parents are still unsatisfied with how the situation has been handled. Beyond the concerns about a teacher who would try to intimidate students out of telling their parents the truth, Hyatt said parents did not feel that the school took the situation seriously, and failed to provide proper support for distressed students.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the New Home ISD School Board is at 7:00 p.m. CT on Monday, May 11.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.