'Haunted' Netflix Series Re-Creates Demon Attack on Marine in Afghanistan, but Is It a 'True Story'?

On Haunted, real people tell their stories of encounters with the supernatural, with re-enactments punctuating the terrors they describe having experienced. The second season of Haunted premiered on Netflix October 11, with six more stories of hauntings, spectral voices and cult abuse. In the episode "Demon of War," a U.S. Marine recounts a terrifying confrontation with a demon in an Afghan graveyard. Could there be any truth to the outlandish encounter?

"War is hell, but I never thought I'd experience something like this," a U.S. Marine identified only as Rick says at the beginning of "Demon of War," before describing his deployment to Afghanistan and repeated combat engagements with Taliban forces. But when Rick is sent to a posting in the Bakwa district of Afghanistan, he runs into more than Afghani soldiers.

A U.S. Marine patrols near Bakwa, Afghanistan in 2009, around the same time as a U.S. Marine claimed to have seen a demon in the same district. John Moore/Getty Images

"I thought the worst was over, but I had no idea what was coming," Rick says.

Posted to a graveyard with "hundreds and hundreds of bodies," Rick is assigned midnight watch duty. Several hours into his watch, "still very, very much awake," a rock crashed against the window of their hilltop watch post, followed by a shuffling, skittering sound outside. Rick reached out to his commanding officer, identified only as "Staff Sergeant Bravo" on Haunted.

"At that point, I'm just like, Maybe there's something out there," Bravo says. "And that's when we talked about him going out and popping the flare."

Rick (played by Sammy Moore in the re-creation) lights a flare and walks out between the rough-hewn gravestones. Something is rustling, as if circling him. Shortly after the flare goes out, Rick is surprised from behind by a nightmarish creature.

"There's these giant, big red eyes, like, burning through me," Rick says, describing the creature, as his wife, mother and Bravo looks on. "I can see the flesh on this demon's face, and it's peeling off, it's ripping off and the skin's hanging off. Terrifying. I wasn't able to speak. I wasn't able to scream. All I wanted to do was blink because my eyes hurt so bad. I wasn't able to do anything. After all I'd been through, I thought that this demon, he was going to kill me."

The demon as it appears in "Haunted" Season 2 episode "Demon of War." Netflix / Propagate Content

Snapping out of his paralysis, Rick ran back to the command center without looking over his shoulder.

"I've never had a Marine come to me and express this kind of story, especially with the detail and the physical distress that comes with it. But I trusted this Marine," Bravo says on Haunted. "I have absolutely no doubt that it was real."

The demon haunted Rick, reappearing in the middle of the night after he had returned to the United States, as if warning the Marine to not redeploy to Afghanistan.

"You can feel that he enjoyed it. He wanted me to be petrified of him. Him waking me up and showing his presence may have been his way of saying, 'You're not welcome,'" Rick says, toward the end of the episode. "I know if he does come back, he's going to come back with a vengeance."

But is this story true?

Potentially verifiable details are largely absent from the episode. Rather than presenting strictly documentary facts, Haunted puts its emphasis on the telling of creepy stories. Still, each episode opens with the straightforward claim: "The following is a true story."

This lack of documentary detail has drawn criticism to the series before, particularly in Haunted's first season, when the episode "Slaughterhouse" described serial murders in upstate New York, whose crimes were stubbornly immune to fact checking efforts from viewers and journalists.

In "Slaughterhouse," a woman named Terrilyn describes her parents bringing home strangers, then killing them. From the scant details, Mashable did its best to track down the true story in 2018, reaching out to New York State Police, Haunted producers and Netflix in an effort to verify the shocking cold cases. They came up with nothing.

But Haunted executive producer Brett-Patrick Jenkins insisted the story is true. "'Slaughterhouse' is real," Jenkins said on Twitter. "It's too much to explain over twitter, but the truth is there, the powers that be know, and it's more shocking than you saw on the show. If I say anything else I could get people in trouble. I'm not willing to do that now."

Thousands of people have reached out to me about #Haunted on Netflix. Know this. Everyone who participated in the show is 100% real. The stories happened to them. Life doesn't always have a perfect ending. It's not always just about telling someone, but finding someone to listen.

— BP (@brettpatrick) October 24, 2018

Jenkins went on to claim the stories on Haunted are "verified on multiple levels." Newsweek has reached out to Jenkins and the Haunted production company with questions about the verification process for "Demon of War," but didn't hear back in time for publication.

While the far-fetched "Slaughterhouse" had many on social media accusing Haunted of outright fabricating its stories, that doesn't seem to be the case with "Demon of War."

The episode instead originated with a post to Reddit's r/Paranormal, described as "a community to discuss and share TRUE personal paranormal experiences." In March, a user posted "Haunted by a Demon ... Story 1 of 3 encounters," subsequently updating with additional details. The story tracks closely with "Demon of War," right down to the emphasis on the pain Rick felt being unable to blink. The same user later reposted the story in response to a thread by a verified Haunted producer, requesting "first-person experiences" for Season 2 of the Netflix series.

Rick's original version of the story has several elements not included in the episode, including a more detailed description of the demon, which he described as "at least 11 feet tall" with 12 horns coming out of its face and shoulders. "He had craters in his face that bugs would crawl out of and into," Rick described in his original telling. "His arms where roughly four feet long, his hands were giant finger claws."

Identifying himself as a sergeant in the Marines, Rick described the vetting process to Newsweek, messaging via the same account he used to post the original story to Reddit, which bears a photograph of Rick identifying him as the same man who tells the story in the episode of Haunted. According to Rick, Haunted put him through a rigorous vetting process.

Rick recounts his alleged encounter with a demon in "Demon of War." Netflix / Propagate Content

"I went through an entire screening process," Rick told Newsweek, including a full background check, internet vetting and "countless" interviews. "I'm still active duty, so I had to get approval to be filmed. It was quite a long process."

In his Reddit posts, Rick describes additional encounters with the demon after first seeing it in 2009, including during a training exercise in the Mojave Desert, when the demon woke him from his cot at the same time of night he first encountered it in Afghanistan. Rick described his third encounter as similar to sleep paralysis, which many users had offered as a possible explanation for the earlier run-ins with the demon—a characterization Rick rejects in those instances. His final encounter reads more like a vision, with the sun rising between two mountains in the distance and ants pouring out from the roots of a tree, even as he dozed on the couch. A similarly profound dream, months later, led Rick to tattoo the Bible verse Psalms 91.4, on his chest.

"The tattoo 100 percent kept the demon at bay for the last five years now," Rick told Newsweek. "Which is why I was comfortable talking about the incidents."

Ultimately, there's no way to verify Rick's specific story—except to dismiss it on the grounds that demons don't exist—since he is the only witness to the alleged supernatural entity. Haunted seems to thrive in this ambiguous space.

Still, the scant details that can be verified ring true, including the "old and impressive Islamic cemetery" in Bakwa. At the very least, Rick's description of the Haunted vetting process suggests the series is telling stories claimed to be real, rather than writing their own or intentionally playing fast and loose with the facts. The more likely exaggerations in the episode "Demon of War" instead come earlier in the episode, with its action movie re-creations of combat against faceless Taliban enemies.

"Hollywood definitely had a way of portraying this story/events," Rick told Newsweek. "But that's Hollywood, I suppose."

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