Balloon boy case a hoax, says sherrif; charges coming

Sun Oct 18, 2009 7:50pm EDT
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DENVER (Reuters) - The flight of a home-made helium balloon that touched off a frantic rescue attempt for the young boy thought to be aboard was a publicity-seeking hoax, a Colorado sheriff said on Sunday.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said the parents of 6-year-old Falcon Heene would likely face four charges in the bizarre incident, which riveted television viewers across the United States for more than two hours on Thursday.

The airship took to the skies on Thursday morning and Richard and Mayumi Heene claimed that their son had climbed aboard, triggering a massive search and rescue operation as the odd silver craft drifted for 50 miles, trailed by U.S. National Guard helicopters.

The boy was later found not in the flying saucer-shaped craft but safe at home.

"It has been determined that this is a hoax, that it was a publicity stunt," Alderden told a press conference.

"We believe we have evidence at this point to indicate that it was a publicity stunt done with the hopes of better marketing themselves for a reality television show at some point in the future," he said.

Alderden said the parents could be charged with conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, making a false police report and attempting to influence a public servant.

Investigators think Falcon and his brothers, who are 8 and 10, were "100 percent involved" in the caper, he said, but were not expected to face criminal charges because of their age.

"On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10," Alderden said.

A lawyer hired by Richard and Mayumi Heene, David Lane, told local KUSA-TV that the incident had been a "nightmare" for the family.

Lane said the parents would be willing to turn themselves in to law enforcement to avoid "the public spectacle and humiliation" of being arrested in front of their children.


Authorities had considered desperate measures to somehow bring the balloon down safely before it slowly began to deflate on its own and landed softly in a wheat field near Denver.

Rescuers who raced to the balloon and found it empty then began to scour the countryside for Falcon, fearing that he had fallen out -- until the family announced that he was safe and had been hiding in a garage attic.

Questions were raised after a CNN interviewer told Richard Heene to ask his son why he had stayed in hiding so long when searchers were desperately calling his name.

The boy responded: "You guys (his parents) said that, um, we did this for the show."  Continued...


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