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The Close Encounter Research Organization Goes International

**This is a guest post by Sean Casteel and John Weigle. The ideas, statements, and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Open Minds.**

What began as a support group strictly for alien abductees has recently created an international group open to the general public in addition to abductees. The Close Encounter Research Organization (CERO) International held its inaugural meeting on January 12, 2013, in Thousand Oaks, California, located north of Los Angeles in Ventura County.

CERO was founded in 1991 by Certified Hypnotherapist Yvonne Smith and began to hold monthly support group meetings “as a resource and safe haven for experiencers of alien abductions or close encounters,” according to a press release issued by Smith.

CERO founder Yvonne Smith. (Credit: Sean Casteel)

The newly formed international group seeks to branch out from its Southern California roots and by expanding nationally and internationally hopes to gather information and provide support along with cutting-edge worldwide UFO presentations and news. CERO International intends to host presentations by experiencers and researchers of international renown and to step outside the cloister of abductees to educate the general public about the reality of the UFO phenomenon and the trauma to which experiencers may be subjected.

At the first public meeting of CERO International, the guest speaker was abductee Travis Walton, whose case was famously, if at times inaccurately, portrayed in the 1993 Hollywood production Fire in the Sky. The meeting opened with a showing of a program from the SyFy Channel called Paranormal Witness in which the Travis Walton story was told in documentary form. The show was not shown in its entirety due to technical problems with the DVD, but it still helped to lay the groundwork for Walton’s appearance. The program quotes Walton as saying, “If you’re going to judge this, take a look at the facts. The facts speak for themselves.”

The story of the UFO event, which took place in November of 1975, began when Walton and six other members of a tree-cutting crew had finished their day’s work in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and were returning home. They “caught sight of a glow through the trees,” according to Walton. The crew began to discard possible reasons for it, ruling out the moon, which was clearly visible elsewhere in the sky, as well as the possibility of a forest fire or plane crash. The object was “a clearly defined, metallic object” hovering approximately one hundred feet away.

“It was terrifying, but it was beautiful,” Walton told the documentary filmmakers.

Walton chose to leave the truck carrying the crew home and approached the hovering ship. A beam of light from the UFO stuck him and lifted him up in the air. On seeing that, the rest of the crew decided to flee. They soon gathered enough courage to return and see if Walton was okay, but he had disappeared completely. Walton’s co-workers hesitated to notify law enforcement because they knew that suspicion would fall on them as killers if they told what would seem like a crazy flying saucer story to explain Walton’s disappearance. Walton was returned by the abductor UFO five days later, basically unharmed but of course very shaken by what had happened.

Travis Walton. (Credit: Sean Casteel)

Walton was accompanied at the CERO International meeting by two members of the crew who were with him the night of the 1975 UFO incident: John Goulette and Steve Pierce.

Walton said he and his workmates had been close enough to the hovering ship that they could have tossed a rock at it and struck it. He feels it was his own choice to leave the truck and approach the ship, as opposed to the aliens somehow forcing him to do so. Steve Pierce added that there was a big pile of logging debris at the site, so Walton couldn’t move closer without difficulty.

“It seemed like something was about to happen,” Walton recounted.

He could feel some kind of force field was building up. When he tried to run back to the truck, “that’s when the energy hit me.” It knocked him unconscious, he said, adding that, “It was so intense that it was like an explosion, like I’d stepped on dynamite or something.”

John Goulette interjected that he didn’t see the beam hit Walton, but he did see its effect on Walton, while Steve Pierce recalled that for the next five days, they assumed Walton was dead. They called the sheriff in the nearby town of Heber, Arizona, who began a search of the area. Goulette said that he had seen combat in Viet Nam and was involved in street fights as a youth but he had “never been so scared in all my life.”

According to Pierce, after a preliminary search, the sheriff decided that crew chief Mike Rogers and two others had to revisit the site of the incident while the rest were permitted to go home. He said it didn’t really begin to sink in until the next day when a policeman arrived and said they were confident Walton was dead and they were now searching for his body. Law enforcement also separated the six men into smaller groups trying to wheedle a confession out of them. Walton’s brothers as well as the local community were also suspicious.

“It’s kind of understandable why things would go that way,” Walton said.

“It wasn’t understandable to me,” Goulette retorted.

Pierce was living in seclusion with his girlfriend when the police approached him and said they were aware of his innocence but that if he was concealing someone else’s guilt he was just as liable for charges of murder.

Meanwhile, onboard the alien ship, Walton awakened “in a lot of pain. I couldn’t breathe.”
Walton found himself on a round surface, saw light around him and heard sounds. He had something across his chest and his eyes went in and out of focus. He also had double vision. There was a form standing nearby that he thought was a doctor but turned out to be an alien.

“I knew where I was,” Walton said, “and I knew I was in serious trouble.”

He rose from the table and felt around for some object to defend himself with. He grabbed something off the table and started swinging at some gray alien-like beings. The beings stepped out of range of his improvised weapon and stared at Walton.

“Their eyes were just drilling into me,” Walton said, in what he believes was an effort to control him.

“Without their ability to control me, I was the big bull in the china shop.”

At that point, the aliens left the room, going right. Walton went left.

“I was just totally out of my mind with fear,” he said.

He came to a room with a chair in it and entered. He planned to find a door and jump out to the ground, but he thinks now that the ship was most likely no longer in the forest. He noticed there were buttons on the chair but they didn’t seem to do anything. There was a screen on the chair that showed angles and segments, but not recognizable numbers and letters.

Next entered a person Walton felt was from Earth. He looked human and was wearing a helmet. The human-looking entity escorted Walton to a passageway, then through an airlock and down a ramp.

“He seemed to be in a real hurry,” Walton said.

Walton could see other disc-shaped craft in a large room they passed through, but they were shinier and rounder than the craft in the forest. The man in the helmet sat Walton down in a chair with other human-looking entities present. They refused to answer any of Walton’s questions. He grabbed something from a table in order to struggle against them, but the entities simply looked at him impassively, with “a little bit of a lack of expression.”

Shortly thereafter, Walton discovered himself to be on a stretch of road above Heber, Arizona, that he was familiar with. He went to a pay phone and made a collect call to his brother, who would prove to be very supportive in the aftermath of Walton’s experience. Walton says that next he must have passed out in the phone booth before he was able to tell his brother what had happened.

Suspicion continued to cast a cloud over Walton’s workmates, however. Over the second and third days after Walton’s disappearance, law enforcement officials asked the crew to take lie detector tests.

“I just knew we were going to prison for murder,” Pierce said. “If we would have failed that polygraph test we never would have left that jail.”

In the days before Walton returned, the group was also hounded by the news media, which Pierce said he took great pains to avoid.

The Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO), at the time a thriving UFO research group, located Walton and his co-workers and wanted to have medical tests administered, while another unnamed group said the experience was the result of drug-induced hallucinations.

For his part, Walton said he was psychologically traumatized. At the CERO International meeting he said the UFO event was “dead serious to us,” and “the most powerful event of our lives.”

Walton also offered his theory that lots of beings are being grouped under the general idea of “grays,” but that he is not convinced they all come from the same place. Later he said he has the same belief about the human-looking aliens seen by him and others.

“There may be others that look similar,” Walton said, “but that have a different agenda.”

Therefore, to assume they’re all from one place is probably wrong, he said. Walton also said that despite the grays’ diminutive stature (they were “very small”), when you look into their eyes you get a feeling that’s hard to explain. It’s easily possible that they could be hundreds of millions of years ahead of us, but that no one, including the government, really knows.

The meeting then opened for questions from the audience.

Steve Pierce and John Goulette. (Credit: Sean Casteel)

In response to the question, “How do you feel now?” Steve Pierce answered by saying that his two brothers still don’t believe his story. Before their recent reunion to talk publicly about the incident, he had not seen Walton for 30-plus years. Pierce also said that the late Philip Klass, an extremely vocal debunker of UFO phenomena, repeatedly called Pierce, offering him $10,000 if he’d say it was all a hoax. Pierce told his wife that he was going to take the money – since no one believed his story anyway – but she said that if he believed in his story he shouldn’t sell himself out for the money. Klass continued to hound Pierce and his family for years.

According to Walton, some Klass supporters say that Pierce fabricated the story, but it was included in the first edition of Walton’s book “Fire In The Sky” and Klass never contested it. After Klass died, a Freedom of Information Act request for information about him resulted in “some very interesting stuff.” Walton displayed some of the material gleaned from Klass’s files on the screen, which included statements by the FBI that Klass seemed to behave erratically and to be unnecessarily argumentative. Klass also made a wasted effort to sully the integrity of the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek (the head scientist for the Air Force’s Project Blue Book who later openly affirmed the reality of UFOs) whose record remained clean in spite of Klass. The writer of the FBI document recommended that the bureau approach any further dealings with Klass very cautiously.

An audience member asked Walton how long he’d been aboard the alien ship, and he replied that he had been conscious part of the time and unconscious part of the time, but when he was found at the service station he had five days growth of beard. He thought it was still that same night when his brother came for him. Looking back, it seemed to be about five days and six hours.

Another question: Don’t you think there’s a need for a group like AA for people who have had such experiences?

Walton answered that that is what CERO is. There are claims that are quite legitimate and some that aren’t, he added, but we have to think of how far we’ve come. When this happened to him, there was no proof of planets outside our solar system. Today space flight is more routine, and there are many science fiction movies about aliens coming to Earth.

“The idea of ‘we are not alone’ has come a long way,” Walton said, and Goulette echoed that by saying he felt there was less ridicule about it these days.

Still, none of the men have felt an obsessive need to study the UFO phenomenon. People would tell Walton various stories, but he doesn’t keep any files on the subject since he is busy enough with his own day-to-day existence.

“I know what happened to me,” Walton said, “but I don’t know anything about any other cases.”

When asked whether any of them had profited from the experience, Pierce and Goulette both said they have received nothing from the makers of the “Fire In The Sky” movie but that people have paid their expenses to enable them to attend meetings like the CERO International event. Walton noted that the crew had lost money on the forestry contract they were engaged in when the incident happened and found it difficult to get work as loggers in the aftermath.

Details in the movie were changed for commercial reasons, Walton said, and people say they wish there was a movie that told the real story. Maybe someday. There’s a scene in the movie about a homecoming party that never happened, but Walton said you’d be amazed at the number of people in the Snowflake area who say today that they went to it.

“I’m in one of those phases,” Walton said. “I’m just trying to set the record straight.”

The question was posed to Walton, had he had any other experiences?

He said that when the filming for the movie started he had dreams but was never sure if he was recalling real events or just remembering things that had been previously talked about. Most of the dreams were mere glimpses, but he could not affirm that anything of them had really happened.

Was there anything spiritual attached to the craft or beings?

Goulette answered that it was technical, not spiritual, while Pierce confessed that at first he thought it was the devil and that the world was ending. For Walton, there was much that was beautiful and fearful but that no spiritual interpretation was needed.

“This is nuts and bolts,” he said, adding that some say it’s devils and some say angels.

Travis Walton and Yvonne Smith. (Credit: Sean Casteel)

Before the Q and A with the audience, CERO founder Yvonne Smith took the microphone, announcing that this was the inaugural meeting of CERO International, which is open to those who have not had UFO experiences as well as those who have. The goal of the group is to “reach out to the masses and mainstream media and to keep our heads on the chopping block” in order to get the information out.

Meetings will be held every other month. The March 9 meeting will feature Dr. Barry E. Taff, author of “Aliens Above, Ghosts Below,” and will be held at the Palm Garden Hotel in Thousand Oaks, California.

The January 12 meeting was dedicated to Bill Leavy, who died January 25, 2012, and had wanted to do another UFO conference as successful as the one he hosted in Santa Maria in August of 2008 (called the Central Coast Science-UFO Symposium), along with his wife Alice Leavy, who is currently the vice president for CERO International. Alice heard Bill say as the meeting was being planned, “Go big or go home.”

In his opening remarks, Dr. Roger Leir (the Southern California podiatrist who has surgically removed alien implants from at least a dozen abductees and who now serves as the research and news director for CERO International) declared that other UFO research groups had come and gone, and said that the still-extant Mutual UFO Network is no longer interested in abductions or crop circles or anything except sightings reports. Therefore, “We’re going to be the new organization.” CERO International intends to have a director in every country in the world to gather and distribute information.

For more information on CERO International, visit their website at www.cerointernational.com.

If you enjoyed this article, visit Sean Casteel’s “UFO Journalist” website at www.seancasteel.com.

About Sean Casteel

Sean Casteel is a journalist from southern California who has published extensively on UFOs, alien abductions, and related phenomena since 1989. His articles have appeared in Open Minds magazine, Fate, UFO magazine, UFO Universe, and other publications.


  1. Dr,Edson Andre' Johnson DD ULC AMM

    Please remeber Fe.25th 2017 will be the 75th Anniversary of te UFO Caused “Battle of Los Angeles,” Feb.25th,1942 Thanks! Locally at the Bolsa Chica Trail Kiosk ,Bolsa Chica Trail, Huntigton Beach,Californa 92649,12 Noon, Feb.25th there will be a FREE remebrance walk and talk remebering this event! Thanks! Dr.Edson Andre’ Johnson D.D.UC AMM

  2. Dr,Edson Andre' Johnson DD ULC AMM

    Remeber Feb 25th 2017 will be the 75th Anniversay of the UFO Caused AIR ROAD on Los Angeles (Battle of LosAngeles) Feb.25th 1942 Thanks! r.Edson Andre’ Johnson .D.ULC AMM

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