In 2016, a Michigan-based priest named Gerald Johnson suffered a heart attack. He says he had a near-death experience (NDE) that sent him somewhere he never thought he’d visit: hell.
Recently, Johnson took to TikTok to share the details of his traumatic NDE—far from the kind of warm, bright-light epiphany you might expect to hear from someone who temporarily ventures into the great beyond.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Johnson recounts in the viral video. “I don’t care what he did to me. No one deserves that.”
Johnson says that immediately after his heart attack in February 2016, his spirit left his physical body and went down to hell, entering through “the very center of the Earth.” Though he says “the things I saw there are indescribable,” he did his best.
Johnson claims he saw a man walking on all fours like a dog and getting burned from head to toe:
“His eyes were bulging and worse than that: He was wearing chains on his neck. He was like a hellhound. There was a demon holding the chains."
Johnson also heard music in hell, including Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”—traditionally upbeat tunes. Only this time, demons were singing the songs to “torture” people.
Johnson says his hellacious NDE made him realize he needed to forgive people who had wronged him, instead of hoping for their punishment.
Maybe Johnson’s story sounds far-fetched to you. But scientists say that while many of the most publicized NDEs have a positive spin, negative NDEs certainly occur, too. The experts just aren’t entirely sure how—or why.
Researchers—especially those from the International Association for Near-Death Studies—believe NDEs most likely happen due to a change in blood flow to the brain during sudden life-threatening events, like a heart attack, blunt trauma, or even shock. As your brain starts losing blood and oxygen, the electrical activity within the brain begins to power down. “Like a town that loses power one neighborhood at a time, local regions of the brain go offline one after another,” one expert told Scientific American.
During a NDE, your mind is left to keep working, but without its normal operational parameters. Whether simply an oxygen shortage, some sort of anesthesia, or a neurochemical response to trauma, as hypothesized, the NDE leaves those who experience it with a real, sometimes traumatic memory. We may not know how that memory happened—and unlike Johnson and his trip to hell, victims may not want to recount it ever again—but it could change their life.