Spirit Rider: Why would Someone Crash a Complete Stranger’s Funeral? (Debbie DeRosa)

On Tuesday, March 2, 2009, Nicole Marie Loretta Leonard woke hearing music from heaven.         Whether the music was angels singing, harps playing, or merely a passing car with its speakers turned up a little too loudly, Nicole knew exactly what the music meant.  Someone she was close to was going to die soon.  She feared it was her friend Doug, who had been having problems with his liver for some time.  Panicking, she decided to drive to Jacksonville, FL, to see him.

            Nicole must not have planned her trip from her home in Candler, NC, well, for she soon found herself lost.  Winding, confusing roads lead her to the bottom of a mountain.  Off course and unsure of what to do, she stopped to ask for guidance.

            “Please, Lord, give me some direction,” she prayed.

            Instantly, a spirit appeared in the passenger seat of her burgundy Toyota.

            “You are my compass,” it said.

            Nicole had encountered spirits before, so this one didn’t surprise or frighten her.  Experience and intuition told her it was a good spirit.  She decided to “go along for the ride,” as she later told readers on her MySpace blog.  Two hours later, Nicole and the spirit found themselves in Laurens, SC.  The spirit disappeared, so Nicole stopped at a gas station for a pack of cigarettes. 

            Nicole is blind in one eye, which can make her look wild and heavily medicated.  Riding for two hours in a car with a spirit didn’t help.  She encountered a police officer inside the gas station.  Looking into her eyes, the officer demanded to search her car.  He asked if she was on narcotics.

            “I don’t even know what a narcotic is; my brain makes all that shit naturally,” she later recounted.

            Finding nothing, the officer let her go.  Nicole drove down the road and saw the spirit again.  It was a “dark, green, sparkling shadow, hanging out in the grass” outside the Gray Court Church of God. 

            Inside the church, friends and family of David Leopard had gathered to mourn his death.  David 57, had died Saturday, February 28.  The spirit told Nicole it needed to say a few, last words at the funeral.  Without explaining whether it was David or simply a friend of David’s, it asked her to go into the church, where a crowd of people dressed in black milled around, waiting for the service to begin.  Immediate family members had not yet entered the room.  Nicole walked through the crowd and felt negative energy, which she attributed to greed. 

            “These people aren’t here to mourn a loss,” thought Nicole. 

            Nicole walked through the sanctuary to the open coffin.  Facing the coffin, she said a short prayer.  She turned to see people near the front of the room who were wearing more colorful clothing. Positive energy emanated from them. 

            Nicole’s dog had knocked the antenna off her radio the night before, so Nicole had the antenna in the front pocket of her overalls.  Standing in front of the coffin of David, Nicole realized the antenna was the perfect prop.   Nicole pulled it out of her pocket and stretched it long.  An old lady with large, white curls, big ankles, and a stuffy, black, pleated dress was playing a piano on the stage.  To the tune of the music, Nicole waved her arms in broad strokes like a conductor as a gift to the deceased.  The lady continued playing as if oblivious to Nicole, and Nicole soon decided her dance was complete.  She tapped the deceased man lightly on the forehead, pushed the antenna back in, and put it into her overalls pocket.  Without giving an explanation to the stunned mourners, she walked down the aisle and out the door.

            Outside, the spirit was waiting for her; it wasn’t pleased with her exit.  Grabbing her by the shoulder, it pushed her back into the church.

            “Get in there.  You’re not done yet,” it said.

            Frustrated, Nicole walked back into the church, which was now heavy with negative energy.  Nicole felt bombarded by the negativity.  She picked up a Bible from a pew and sat, leaning against the arm rest and propping her feet on the seat of the pew.  After a little thought, she decided she didn’t blame the spirit for being upset.  It must have been the spirit of the dead man, and he must have wanted to say a few, last words to the people with the colorful clothing.  Determined to complete her mission, she took the Bible with her to the podium and opened it in the center. 

            “What more do you want me to say?” she asked the spirit, who took over her body in response.

             “I love you, I love you, I love you,” said the spirit through Nicole.

            Nicole forced the spirit out of her body.

            “He’s still alive,” she announced.  “It’s his choice if he wants to live or die.”

            The casket had been closed when Nicole left the church, so Nicole ran down the steps of the stage to the casket.  She threw off the roses on top, lifted the lid of the casket, and placed two fingers on his forehead.  She began another prayer.

            David’s niece Tammy Fausel grabbed Nicole’s arm. She briskly guided Nicole outside and pulled a cell phone out of her large, black purse.

            “What is your relation to the deceased?” asked Tammy, dialing.

            “A compass,” replied Nicole.

            “I would like to report an incident,” said Tammy into the phone.  “We need police officers here immediately…”

            Nicole realized it was time to go, so she ran to her car.  The police intercepted her going south on 385, back on course to Jacksonville. According to their report, Nicole told them, “I just felt like it was the right thing to do at the time,” when they asked her about her bizarre behavior.  Later, Nicole didn’t remember what she said to them, but she agreed it sounded like something she would have said.  The police arrested Nicole and charged her with disturbing a funeral and disorderly conduct.  She spent the night in jail. 

            The episode created a minor stir, hitting national and international news feeds.  Bloggers who picked up on the story called her a “funeral fairy.”  Where did she get her magic wand, as news reports described her antenna?  Was she a Wiccan?  Was she crazy?  Several people requested Nicole’s presence at their funerals. 

            Telling her side of the story, Nicole explained on her blog that she was diagnosed a year ago with Bipolar 1 with psychosis.  According to WebMD, “A person affected by bipolar I disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal behavior that disrupts life. Most people with bipolar I disorder also suffer from episodes of depression. Often, there is a pattern of cycling between mania and depression.”  In another article, WebMD says people experiencing psychosis may have “hallucinations, delusions or some other break with reality.”

            To Nicole, reality is a subjective term.  “There are no boundaries between what is real and what is not.  We manifest our reality,” she patiently explained.  However, she said she dreams when she’s awake.  Even though she considers her dreams to be a gift from the higher power, she thinks she needs medication to survive in society.  Without it, she says she might be put in a mental institution because others don’t see what she sees.  Nicole says, “I’m on medication now and the spirits come less and less with every day gone by.”

            Was there really a spirit guiding Nicole on her random expedition to a funeral in Laurens, SC?  Was the spirit David Leopard, wanting to say a few words at his funeral?  Psychologists, psychics, and philosophers can debate.  Nicole is not awaiting their verdict; she knows some truth exists in her fantasies, regardless of what others think.  She says her friend Doug is still alive, but, sadly, her dog died.