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Tuesday, October 20, 2009 Toronto Edition
 

Was balloon drama all a gag?

'We did this for a show,' Balloon Boy says on TV, raising suspicions

P. SOLOMON BANDA
IVAN MORENO Associated Press
2009/10/17 04:30:00
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Richard Heene (left) holds his son Falcon, 6, outside their house in Fort Collins, Colorado. (Oct. 15, 2009)

RICK WILKING/REUTERS

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 TV during a frenzied search before little Falcon Heene was found.

The sheriff's office said it does not believe at this point the balloon episode was a stunt, but investigators planned to question the family again Saturday. Richard Heene denies this was a hoax.

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 Falcon threw up during two separate interviews when asked why he hid.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden admitted that Falcon's comments on CNN had "raised everybody's level of skepticism."

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 was asked about the sequence of events when the Heenes reported their child's disappearance. The Heenes called the FAA first, followed by a local TV station with a news helicopter, and then dialled 911.

It was not the first time someone from the Heenes' home has dialled 911. A sheriff's deputy responded to a 911 hang-up in February at the home, hearing a man yelling and noticied Heene's wife, Mayumi, had a mark on her cheek and broken blood vessels in her eye. She said it was because of a problem with her contacts. The husband and wife said nothing had happened, and the deputy concluded he did not have probable cause for an arrest.

Richard Heene's actions have drawn scrutiny before. He has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and a contractor, and an aspiring reality-TV star.

He and his family appeared on the reality show Wife Swap, receiving no more than a few thousand dollars for each show, according to a person familiar with the production who asked for anonymity.

In addition, the producer of Wife Swap said there had been a show in development with the Heenes but the deal is now off. The producer did not provide specifics.

Barb Slusser Adams, who along with Heene and another man worked on a proposed show called The Science Detectives, said she became used to his relentless attempts to get media attention for the show, which never aired.

Slusser said one of Heene's publicity ideas involved going to the top of a mountain with her and an associate and a "helicopter would come by and strafe us or whatever."

On Friday, dozens of journalists parked in front of the family home. One of the boys, Ryo, would occasionally crack open the front door and tell journalists the family was not talking. "My dad said he's tired of this show."

Also see:

Todorovic files for appeal in Rengel killing

DiManno: Balloon boy bursts dad's bubble

Pakistan hits Taliban heartland

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