The Stephenville UAP sightings involved multiple eyewitness observations of unidentified aerial objects over the city of Stephenville, Texas, on the night of January 8, 2008. Several area residents described seeing extremely large aircraft on the night in question, with some accounts including sightings of military aircraft in pursuit. The incident received widespread media attention at the time and remains among the most notable UAP events in the 21st century.
The seat of Erath County, Texas, Stephenville was founded in 1856.¹ One of several locations that claim the title “Cowboy Capital of the World,” the town is known for being home to more professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls than any other location, and for a thriving equine industry in the surrounding region.²
Main Events of January 8, 2008
On the evening of January 8, 2008, several residents of Stephenville, Texas, reported seeing unusual lights moving quickly through the skies. At approximately 6:15 p.m. witnesses Steve Allen, Mike Odom, and Lance Jones observed a series of flashing lights that they judged to have been at or close to “3,500 feet above ground level,” spanning a region of the sky they estimated to be approximately one square mile. No sounds accompanied these lights, which they said appeared “directly above Highway 67 traveling towards Stephenville at a high rate of speed.”
According to Allen, a private pilot at the time with three decades of flight experience, the lights were traveling at an estimated 3000 miles per hour. He did not recognize them as being similar to any kind of standard lighting associated with aircraft, but instead were “more like strobe lights,” which at one point changed their orientation from a single horizontal line into a pair of vertical rows of lights roughly one-quarter mile apart. Allen said the lights, which were white in color, began to resemble “dirty burning flames” before abruptly disappearing.
Ten minutes later, the lights appeared again, this time with what appeared to be a pair of fighter jets in pursuit. A consistent feature of the January 8 observations had been the silent passage of the lights overhead at what appeared to be tremendous speed. According to Odom, the lights he and the other two men observed were “something not natural; it was moving way too fast.”
Allen, Odom, and Jones were among the first observers to receive widespread attention for their sighting, following the publication of an article by reporter Angelia Joiner that appeared in the Stephenville Empire-Tribune two days after the incident on January 10, 2008.³
Additional Witnesses Come Forward
By the following week, the story had begun to receive national attention from outlets that included the Associated Press. A CNN article published that Monday, January 14, 2008, reported that witnesses now numbering several dozen, “including a pilot, county constable and business owners” had all seen the silent array of lights passing over Stephenville one week beforehand. Several of the witnesses also reported seeing the fighter jets in pursuit of the object, as first reported by witnesses Allen, Odom, and Jones.
One of the new witnesses, machinist Ricky Sorrels, said he had been ridiculed after telling other locals about his several observations of what he described as a “flat, metallic object” hovering approximately 300 feet over a pasture located behind his home in Dublin, Texas. Sorrels said accounts he read in the Empire-Tribune encouraged him to come forward.⁴
Lee Roy Gaitan, a police officer in Stephenville had been walking to his car when he observed, “a red glow that reminded him of pictures he’d seen of an erupting volcano” attached to an object “suspended 3,000 feet in the air.” Gaitan, whose son also observed the hovering object, had been reluctant to come forward with his sighting until he, like other witnesses, read about the sightings in the Empire-Tribune.⁵
U.S. Air Force Response
Despite multiple reports of fighter jets seen in pursuit of the lights on the night of January 8, Maj. Karl Lewis, a spokesperson with the 301st Fighter Wing out of Joint Reserve Base Naval Air Station in Fort Worth, said on January 14, 2008, that there had been no F-16s, nor any other aircraft from their installation, airborne over Stephenville that night, proposing instead that the lights had likely only been an airliner reflecting sunlight from over the horizon. Officials at nearby Dyess and Sheppard Air Force Bases similarly denied any knowledge of there being aircraft from their bases that could account for the sightings.⁶
On January 23, the Air Force did an about-face, issuing a new official statement that seemingly contradicted all its previous assertions about the events of January 8. Now, the Air Force said that there had indeed been several F-16 fighter jets in the air on January 8, which had been the source of the multiple reports of strange lights seen over Stephenville. Just days earlier, the Air Force had said no aircraft from any bases in the region were airborne that night; now Air Force officials explained that F-16s had been participating in a training mission over the Brownwood Military Operating Area the same night that many residents of central Texas reported seeing mysterious lights in the evening sky.
“In the interest of public awareness, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs realized an error was made regarding the reported training activity of military aircraft,” read an official Air Force new release, which added that the aircraft seen belonged to the 457th Fighter Squadron based at the reserve base near Fort Worth, Texas. Maj. Karl Lewis, who offered the original statement that there had been no aircraft operating from Air Force facilities in the region the night of the incident, advised that the error had been caused by an “internal communications problem between offices at the base.”⁷
The Air Force about-face drew sharp criticism from several UAP proponents. “Their irrational behavior is just fascinating,” researcher Don Berliner told Herald-Tribune reporter Billy Cox two days later on January 25, 2008. “They’d be better off just shutting up. You can’t jump on them for anything if they don’t say anything.”⁸
In early February 2008, witness Ricky Sorrells told reporter Angelia Joiner with the Stephenville Empire-Tribune that he believed he had become the target of harassment by the United States military after going public with his UAP sightings. According to a February 3 article, Sorrells claimed that military aircraft had been repeatedly flown over his property at low altitudes both night and day, preventing him and his family from sleeping.
On January 15, just one day after he was interviewed by the Associated Press about his UAP observations, Sorrells said he was contacted by an individual identifying himself as an Air Force Lt. Colonel. During their phone call, the individual reportedly asked to come and speak with Sorrells about his UAP encounters. Upon responding that he “needed time to think about it,” Sorrells said the caller’s attitude changed noticeably; when told that he did not wish to receive any visitors, Sorrells claimed the man responded by saying, “Son, we have the same caliber weapons as you do but a lot more of them.” The caller then reportedly told Sorrells that if he would quit speaking publicly about his UAP sightings, the military aircraft overflights would also cease. Sorrells said that helicopter activity stopped in the days after the unnerving phone call, but that fighter jets continued to be seen frequently over his property.⁹
On Monday, February 4, a follow-up article by Joiner recounted another incident where Sorrells was awakened at around 1 a.m. by his dogs barking, prompting him to investigate. Through his bedroom window, Sorrells observed a man that looked to be in his 20s wearing a parka-style coat, who had “positioned himself in between the car and the pickup 40 to 50 feet from my back door.” Sorrells said the man watched him for several moments before walking into the nearby forest, telling Joiner that the intruder “wanted me to see him.” Later while giving a tour of his property during a visit by researcher Linda Moulton Howe, Sorrells discovered a single 15-06 Remington bullet, which he believed to have been intentionally left behind by the nighttime intruder.¹⁰
Following national media attention the Stephenville UAP sightings received, in mid-January 2008 the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) launched its own independent investigation.
On February 9, 2009, ABC News reported that six MUFON investigators would be interviewing Stephenville residents. At that time, the organization reported that it had received 50 sighting reports from the Stephenville area.¹¹
Along with eyewitness testimony, additional supplementary data was obtained through Freedom of Information requests MUFON filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Weather Service, as well as “all nearby military bases, the U.S. Customers & Border Protection Services, and the 21st and 30th Air Force Space Wing Commands.” The results of the investigation culminated in a MUFON Special Research Report authored by investigators Glen Schulze and Robert Powell.
According to the report, MUFON’s investigation yielded several conclusions. Among these had been that radar data seemed to corroborate several witness reports of one or more large, unknown objects seen over Stephenville on the evening of January 8. Additionally, some of the radar data obtained by MUFON appeared to indicate that one of these unknown objects had slowly traveled in the direction of Crawford Ranch, the Texas residence of President George W. Bush. The report also noted that there had not been a significant reaction from the military in response to the events, although there had been a number of military aircraft traffic in the area on the evening in question, which in some instances “strayed out of their standard Military Training Routes and into civilian airspace,” seemingly in agreement with the Air Force’s updated statement regarding military exercises that were underway at the time. MUFON also concluded that some of their FOIA requests had not been taken seriously “and were completely ignored by the Dept of Homeland Security’s branch, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.”
“It is very difficult to dismiss witness testimony that is corroborated by radar,” Schulze and Powell wrote in their report, noting that “radar tracked one of those two objects for over an hour as it traveled directly toward Crawford Ranch. The authors cannot comment on the source or origin of this object, but it is clear to the authors that the unknown object was real and not imaginary.”¹²
Sightings by Law Enforcement
During MUFON’s investigation and the ongoing independent research efforts by reporter Angelia Joiner and others, several police officers in the Stephenville area began to come forward with accounts of observations of the UAP on January 8. Most of these witnesses, due to their employment in law enforcement, were unwilling to reveal their names, with notable exceptions that included officer Lee Roy Gaitan.
One of the most striking observations was reported to MUFON investigators during an interview on July 3, 2008. On the night of the incident, the officer (referred to as “Witness M” in an appendix section of Schulze and Powell’s report on the incident) had begun his patrol shift shortly after 7 p.m. While heading east on Highway 377, the officer observed a large, stationary object that was darker than the surrounding sky and appeared to be hovering to the north in the direction of the Stephenville courthouse. The officer estimated its size to be roughly four city blocks in width, with a height of approximately 40 feet. There also appeared to be a pair of “towers” on top of the object, as well as three extending from its bottom that were twice the main object’s width and fitted with strobing lights. The officer also observed two “very large lights” on the object’s body “similar to xenon lights” which did not strobe or flicker. As the object began to move, the officer observed it pause and tilt at an angle 45 degrees to its left “by pivoting off its edge”, thereafter completing a turn that oriented the object on its side in a vertical position. At this time, the officer told MUFON investigators that he was able to track its speed at 27 miles per hour using his radar, with its speed gradually increasing to 33 miles per hour before it was obstructed from view by trees in the distance.¹³
Angelia Joiner reported in early March 2008 that she had spoken with three members of law enforcement who observed the object the night of the incident, all of whom reported seeing an actual craft fitted with strobing lights. “I want people to know that the citizens are telling the truth,” an individual Joiner referred to as “Officer X” stated. “They're not lying. They are telling the truth. There was something there. I think it's stealthy. It has a stealth capability. I think it can change colors with the sky. It was as dark as the sky until it lit up.”¹⁴
As the Stephenville UAP sightings continued to gain national media attention, a minor controversy erupted on Thursday, February 7, 2008, when it was announced that journalist Angelia Joiner, the first to break the story of sightings by local residents, had left the Stephenville Empire-Tribune.
“I appreciate the opportunity I have had at the newspaper,” Joiner was quoted saying following her departure. “A story of this magnitude drained the limited resources a small newspaper has. I performed my other duties to the best of my ability.”
Independent reporter Steve Hammons raised questions about Joiner’s abrupt departure, asking whether media censorship could have been involved. “Did the paper's management face pressures to end coverage of the UFO sighting by a local peace officer, respected businessman and pilot and reportedly dozens of other local citizens?” Hammons asked in an editorial on February 9, 2008. “Did they back away from accounts of local citizens who said they were apparently being threatened for talking about what they saw?”¹⁵
Joiner went on to appear twice on CNN’s Larry King Live, along with appearances in filmmaker James Fox’s I Know What I Saw, on the Discovery Channel’s Investigation X, and on the ABC production UFOs: Seeing is Believing. Joiner was also recognized for a time as “lead investigative reporter” for the Texas area MUFON chapter, and UFO Digest subsequently named Joiner “2009 UFO Reporter of the Year”.
Although Joiner continued to actively investigate the Stephenville sightings for some time after her departure from the Empire-Tribune, she eventually retired from UAP investigations, and worked at Stephenville’s Head Start Center until 2020 as an infant and toddler teacher. Joiner passed away on January 7, 2021, one day before the thirteenth anniversary of the Stephenville UAP sightings.¹⁶
Despite the U.S. Air Force’s reversal on its official position that proposed training exercises involving military aircraft as a potential explanation for the 2008 UAP sightings, several of the observations by local citizens and law enforcement in Stephenville appear to describe a single, large object, often moving at slow speeds. The eyewitness observations also appear to be corroborated by radar data detailed in MUFON’s report on the incident, which strengthens the argument that one or more large, unknown objects had been operating in the airspace over Stephenville on the night of January 8, 2008.
To date, no definitive explanation for the UAP sightings, nor the corroborating radar detections, has ever surfaced.