Classes were suspended yesterday at Don Vicente Rama National High School in Basak-Pardo, Cebu City when 21 students caused a commotion with their strange behaviour – crying jags, screams, fainting and uncontrolled body movements.
Parents suspected they were possesed by spirits. Some of the girls were brought to the barangay hall where they were made to lie down quietly in cots to rest.
“Our conclusion is that this was an ordinary case of mass hysteria,” said barangay captain Dave Tumulak, who called in government social workers to give the girls a psychological debriefing.
He asked school officials to excuse the girls from classes for two days and to restrict outdoor activities. He said the school had two incidents of “possession” this year.
The students were brought to the barangay health center for a medical check-up. Some were shaking in fear and shouting. Some were carried in the arms of family members. They had participated in a girl scouts camp over the weekend at Camp Marina in Capitol Hills.
“Their vital signs are normal. We didn’t see any violent reactions, although we’ve seen in some, but it’s not alarming,” Tumulak told Cebu Daily News.
“They had a tiring weekend and the weather was hot. They were sharing some stories at camp and it may have affected them.”
The barangay official, who said he’s familiar with paranormal activities, said the girls may have just been disturbed by scary stories they heard at camp.
At an age when young girls are very impressionable, he said they may have ended up creating their own scenarios, even drawing on superstitious beliefs.
In separate interviews, some girls said they saw images of a family of three being brutally killed.
“I saw them being massacred. They had very red eyes like fire,” one student said.
Another student said the “spirits” were angry after some students accidentally hit a tree on Friday night.Some students pointed to third year student Ana (not her real name) as the one who was initially “possessed” before other girls started acting in a bizarre fashion.
Ana was immediately isolated and taken home. Other affected students, still in their school uniforms, were brought to the barangay hall. The barangay captain said Ana told him that she was encountering a family problem.
Mass hysteria – also known as collective obsessional behavior—is the spontaneous manifestation of the same or similar hysterical physical symptoms by more than one person. This commonly occurs, for example, when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease.
Six students – including Ana – were showing signs of hysteria since Sunday, the last day of camp. The next day, six more students got “possessed” while attending classes. More followed between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.
During the launching of their English Festival at the school’s mini gym at 8 a.m. Ana’s actions were already unusual..
“Mokalit lang siya’g isug, pugngan nimo gahi kaayo (She would suddenly flare up and she was so stiff when we tried to calm her down),” said a third year student.
Ambrosia Cabalida, mother of a 13-year-old student, said she didn’t want her child to join the camp because of a “supernatural occurrence” there last October in the same campsite.
“We didn’t want to permit her to join the camp, but her teacher insisted that she join,” Cabalida said in Cebuano. “Who would have known this would happen?” /Carine M. Asutilla and Tweeny Malinao, Correspondents