Posted on Sun, Feb. 10, 2008-A month later, Stephenville Starts to Settle Down
By MATT FRAZIERStar-Telegram staff writer
STEPHENVILLE -- It has been one month since people reported seeing strange unidentified flying objects over Stephenville, causing a worldwide stir among curious journalists and UFO enthusiasts.
Since then, investigators have interviewed more than 100 witnesses and dug their way through grainy pictures and shaky video of supposed UFOs. Now they say they may finally have found one video of a flying craft that they can't explain -- but the photo's ownership is in question.
The military initially denied, then confirmed that it had fighter jets in the area during the sightings, leading to conspiracy theories and speculation -- including that the jets were chasing UFOs from a restricted-flight zone.
A speaker captivated an audience of hundreds at Stephenville's Tarleton State University with UFO tales that seemed strikingly similar to the accounts given by witnesses of the recent sightings. One of the university's astronomy professors is considering beginning his own investigation. And the town of Stephenville, a farming community about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth, was shocked by the descending media hordes before deciding that it was all great fun. Now many think it may be profitable as well.
"It seems like the feeding frenzy is over," said Kathie Whiteman, manager of a bookstore at the edge of Tarleton State University. "Now the fad has begun."
About 50 people say they saw impossibly bright lights in the skies above the Stephenville area Jan. 8. Not long after, they gathered in nearby Dublin to talk about what they saw with interviewers from the Mutual UFO Network.
Despite about 400 pushing and shoving onlookers, seven MUFON investigators gathered information from respectable sources, said Kenneth Cherry of Keller, director of the organization's Texas chapter. Cherry said investigators are still talking to witnesses who did not want to be a part of that public event, often visiting them at home. He expects that more than 200 people will eventually be interviewed. So far, the network has interviewed about 75 percent of them, he said. But it hasn't been easy, Cherry said.
"Some reporters are absolutely demanding information or are following us around when we interview witnesses," Cherry said. "And these are people who want to avoid publicity."
Besides collating data, the organization has filed a number of Freedom of Information requests with the military, checked with the Federal Aviation Administration and looked at meteorological patterns.
The network hopes to eventually determine exactly where and when the objects were spotted, along with their flight paths.
"There is a compelling piece of video," he said. "But there is a dispute over ownership. Everything else has been eliminated."
The organization hopes to announce its findings in its magazine's April edition.
Dozens of people in the area reported seeing UFOs -- and fighter jets -- around dusk on that date.
Maj. Karl Lewis, a spokesman for the 301st Fighter Wing at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, initially said that no F-16s or other aircraft from the base were in the area the night of Jan. 8. Lewis said the object may have been an illusion caused by two commercial airplanes. Lights from the aircraft would seem unusually bright and appear orange because of the setting sun, he said. But later, the military changed its tune, saying that 10 F-16s from the 457th Fighter Squadron were training between 6 and 8 p.m. Jan. 8 in the Brownwood military operating area, which includes Stephenville and Erath County.
The Mutual UFO Network says the admission adds credibility to their witnesses, who reported seeing military jets chasing the flying objects. That's leading conspiracy Web sites to the conclusion that UFOs invaded restricted military airspace.
Overheard in a TSU parking lot before guest speaker Robert Hastings' UFO lecture:
"Did you find your keys?"
"I bet the aliens took them."
"Are you going to the alien speaker thing?"
"Oh yeah, it's going to be awesome!"
Since 1981, Hastings has spoken at more than 500 colleges and universities nationwide, including Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin. Last month, he spoke to an audience of hundreds in the student center on the topic "UFOs: The Secret Story." After presenting documents and a slide show, he said the Stephenville UFO fit into a pattern of sightings, including:
Bright lights flying in ways no modern airplane could duplicate. Military jets trying and failing to keep up with the objects. A nearby nuclear weapons or energy production facility.
"A number of the documents refer to UFOs repeatedly violating highly sensitive airspace over nuclear weapons sites, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where nuclear weapons are designed," he told the crowd.
Tarleton's Michael Hibbs, an associate professor of math and physics, and Ron DiIulio, director of astronomy lab programs at the University of North Texas in Denton, said a few weeks ago that they would gather data and interview witnesses in connection with the sightings. They have not started yet, Hibbs said, and they aren't 100 percent sure they ever will. "We wanted to try to explain this with science and logic, but we haven't gone out there and done the work," Hibbs said. "We were really concerned with all the hype. We want to wait until that dies down."
Reporters swarmed the town of Stephenville soon after the UFO sightings were made public. At first residents seemed shocked; then they started having fun.
The town square in Stephenville is still dominated by a large white and red courthouse and a cow statue showing that area dairy farmers sell $223 million annually. But alien heads, spaceships and UFO parking signs have crept into the area. In one corner of the town square, a travel shop displays a poster featuring a UFO and offers trips that are "out of this world." Next to it is a tattoo shop featuring extraterrestrial tattoos. In another corner, a bookstore offers UFO parking on the roof. "Of course the people who have actually seen it are not satisfied and want more answers," said Treva Thompson of the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce. "But it has died down. Some businesses are still using it as a marketing opportunity, but I feel like this is something that's going to pass over eventually."
According to Stephenville High School teacher Kimberlea Adams, the science club pre-sold 1,200 UFO shirts at $10 each. The club expects to award a $1,000 scholarship to a deserving senior for at least the next four years.
"We turned over the sales to Coyote [Designs] and they are going to donate the proceeds back to us," Adams said. "So far they have sold about 250 more shirts. We haven't quite decided what to do with the extra money."
The College Store near Tarleton recently ordered glow-in-the-dark UFO shirts, manager Whiteman said.
"I wish I had jumped onto this earlier," she said. "I'm hoping the fad will last at least through May."
This report includes material from the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.
MATT FRAZIER, 817-390-7957
source and references:
Archived UFO Articles and News Items, 2008
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