FORT COLLINS, COLO. — By all accounts, Richard Heene is an unapologetic self-promoter who would pursue all sorts of off-the-wall stunts to get media attention. Flying saucers, mountaintop helicopter stunts, storm chasing, reality TV shows — no gag was beyond his limits.
But would he go so far as to hide his 6-year-old son in the rafters of his garage for five hours and make it seem like the boy floated away in a helium balloon?
It was a question being asked everywhere Friday, one day after the balloon drama unfolded live on television during a frenzied search before little Falcon Heene was found.
The sheriff’s office said it does not believe at this point that the balloon episode was a stunt, but investigators planned to question the family again today. Richard Heene denies that the events were a hoax, dismissing such allegations as “extremely pathetic.”
Doubts surfaced after a series of bizarre TV interviews, including one on CNN in which Falcon Heene told his parents “you said we did this for a show” when asked why he did not come down from the garage rafters during the search.
The family made the rounds on the morning talk shows Friday, and little Falcon threw up during two separate interviews when asked why he hid.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden acknowledged that Falcon’s comments on CNN had clearly “raised everybody’s level of skepticism.” But, he said, investigators had no reason to believe the whole thing was a hoax.
Alderden said the family seemed genuine during the panic, and he believed events could have unfolded just as they described: Falcon got frightened when his father scolded him for playing inside the balloon, and hid in the garage out of fear.
The sheriff said his office has been flooded with calls and e-mails about the matter. He added that officials “have to operate on what we can prove as a fact and not what people want to be done.”
The sheriff was also asked about the sequence of events when the Heenes reported their child’s disappearance to authorities. The Heenes called the FAA first, followed by a local TV station with a news helicopter, and then dialed 911. The sheriff said the TV station call made sense because the helicopter could have provided immediate assistance.
In the 911 call, the boy’s mother, Mayumi Heene, told a dispatcher in a panicked voice that her child was in “a flying saucer.” She sobbed and said, “We’ve got to get my son.”
It was not the first time someone from the Heenes’ home has dialed 911. A Colorado sheriff’s deputy responded to a 911 hang-up in February at the home, hearing a man yelling and noticing Mayumi Heene had a mark on her cheek and broken blood vessels in her left eye. She said it was because of a problem with her contacts.
Richard Heene said he had been yelling because his children stayed up past their bedtime. The husband and wife said nothing had happened, and the deputy concluded he did not have probable cause to make an arrest.
If the balloon ordeal was a hoax, the parents could be charged with making a false report to authorities, a low-level misdemeanor, Alderden said.