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Family in balloon-boy drama to be reinterviewed, sheriff says

Though the Colorado sheriff says he doesn't believe the incident was a hoax, a remark make by the 6-year-old child during a CNN interview has 'raised everyone's level of skepticism.'

October 17, 2009|DeeDee Correll

DENVER — The Colorado sheriff whose deputies chased a homemade, UFO-shaped balloon across three counties before the boy it purportedly was carrying turned up safe at home said Friday that investigators would seek to reinterview the family in light of comments the child made that suggested the incident had been staged.

Asked Thursday night during an appearance with CNN's Wolf Blitzer why he had not emerged from hiding when he heard people calling for him, 6-year-old Falcon Heene said to his father, Richard: "You had said that we did this for a show."

"Clearly that has raised everyone's level of skepticism; we feel it's incumbent to reinterview them and establish if this is a hoax," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said at a news conference.

Richard and Mayumi Heene have denied that the runaway helium balloon was part of a publicity stunt.

On Friday morning, Richard Heene told NBC's "Today" show that what happened was "absolutely not" a hoax. "And now I'm started to get a little ticked off because I'm repetitively getting asked this," Heene said. "What have I got to gain out of this?"

The family reported Falcon missing from their home in the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins soon after the balloon became untethered and floated away.

An older brother said he had seen Falcon climb aboard before it lifted off. But hours later, the child emerged from the rafters above the garage and explained that he'd concealed himself there after his father had yelled at him earlier in the morning for playing around the balloon.

Alderden said that he did not believe the incident was a hoax, despite growing Internet and media chatter that Heene -- an amateur scientist and storm-chaser -- and his wife had concocted the event as a publicity stunt.

The family has appeared on the reality television show "Wife Swap," and the celebrity gossip site reported Friday that Richard Heene had recently pitched a reality TV series, which cable network TLC turned down.

RDF Media USA, the company that produced "Wife Swap," confirmed that it had worked with the Heenes to develop a project, but said it was no longer associated with the family.

"Like everyone else in America, we were stunned and held our breath while the events of yesterday unfolded," RDF spokeswoman Brooke Fisher said Friday. "And like everyone else, we are extremely thankful for the fact that Falcon is safe with his family."

Alderden said that "people are free to be skeptical about it, but we in law enforcement have to operate on facts and what we can prove."

Alderden noted that upon Falcon's discovery, the parents agreed to allow investigators to interview him privately. Both the child's answers and the parents' demeanor throughout the day convinced detectives that the family was telling the truth.

"Our people didn't think that could be faked," Alderden said.

The sheriff described Falcon as a "very hyperactive" boy, and expressed doubt that he would have concealed himself for hours at his parents' request.

"I just can't see this particular boy being told to sit up there for five hours and be quiet," Alderden said. "It seems much more likely that the boy was frightened. He thought he was responsible for the device becoming untethered."

Investigators hoped to conduct an interview over the weekend, allowing the family to rest on Friday, Alderden said. Sheriff's spokeswoman Eloise Campanella said that the office would make no announcements about the case over the weekend.

Alderden said his office also had contacted child protective services about the family, a move Campanella called standard in cases involving children.

During appearances Friday morning on national television, Falcon twice became ill.

On ABC's "Good Morning America," he ran to a bathroom and vomited. During the interview on NBC, he vomited into a bowl as his father answered questions about whether the event was a hoax.

The Heenes lived in Burbank several years ago, when Richard was trying to launch an acting career, according to Los Angeles media reports. Carrie Cavalier, his former landlady, told NBC News that he was late in paying rent and left town in 2007, owing her $6,000.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that a sheriff's deputy had responded to a 911 hang-up call at the family's home in February. The deputy said that he heard a man yelling and found Mayumi Heene with a mark on her cheek and broken blood vessels in her eye, but that she attributed it to a problem with her contacts. The deputy decided he didn't have probable cause to make an arrest, and no charges were filed.


Correll writes for The Times. Times staff writer Denise Martin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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