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Parents of 'balloon boy' face charges

The sheriff refuses to say what the charges will be, but says Richard and Mayumi Heene are not under arrest.The move comes as questions lingers of a possible hoax after the Heenes' 6-year-old's comment on TV that 'we did this for a show.'

October 18, 2009|Times And Wire Reports

FORT COLLINS, COLO. — The parents of a 6-year-old boy who was thought to be trapped in a runaway balloon but was later found hiding in his family's garage will probably face criminal charges, authorities said Saturday night -- the latest indication that the surreal drama that captivated the nation might have been a publicity stunt.

Larimer County Sheriff James Alderden, who previously said he thought the boy's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, had not staged the escapade, told reporters Saturday night, "We anticipate at some point in the future there will be some criminal charges filed in this incident."

Alderden said he couldn't detail what the charges would be but could only say that those that applied are misdemeanors -- which "hardly seems enough, given the circumstances," he added.

He previously said that if the balloon incident was a hoax, the parents could be charged with making a false report to authorities, a low-level misdemeanor.

"We are talking to the district attorney, federal officials to see if perhaps there aren't additional federal charges that are appropriate in this circumstance," he said.

Alderden said deputies were seeking a search warrant for the family's home, and there would be more information at a news conference today. Later Saturday, authorities began executing a search.

The sheriff spoke after his investigators interviewed the family again for several hours Saturday.

Alderden said the parents spoke to investigators voluntarily and weren't under arrest.

The Heenes left the sheriff's headquarters Saturday night grim-faced. Richard Heene simply said, "We're doing well."

The day began with Richard Heene knocking on the car windows of journalists camped outside his home and promising a "big announcement." A few hours later, he told reporters that they should leave questions in a cardboard box on the front doorstep.

As Heene walked away, a reporter shouted, "Can you tell us once and for all if this is a hoax?"

"Absolutely no hoax. I want your questions in the box," Heene said, waving a cardboard container before going back inside.

Outside, a circus atmosphere formed, with men holding signs and occasionally yelling "balloon boy." One sign read, "Put balloon boy on TV: America's Most Wanted."

Other gawkers carried aluminum-foil stove-top popcorn makers that resembled the silvery balloon launched from the family's backyard Thursday, with Falcon believed to be onboard.

While the Heenes were at the sheriff's office, the couple's three sons were at home, apparently being watched by sheriff's officials. Authorities would not comment on the situation.

Alderden had said that he wanted to re-interview the family after Falcon, asked on CNN why he hadn't come out of his hiding place, turned to his father and said, "You had said that we did this for a show."

Then Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews when asked why he had hidden.

The balloon was supposed to have been tethered to the ground when it lifted off, and no one was supposed to have been aboard. A video of the launch shows the family counting down in unison, "3, 2, 1," before Richard Heene pulls a cord, setting the balloon into the air.

"Whoa!" one of the boys exclaims. Then his father says in disbelief, "Oh, my God!" He then says to someone, "You didn't put the . . . tether down!" and he kicks the wood frame that had held the balloon.

Falcon's brother said he saw Falcon inside the compartment before it took off and that's why they thought he was in there when it launched. Heene said that before the launch he had yelled at Falcon for getting inside.

Alderden said earlier that he thought that it was likely that Falcon ran off because he was scared of getting in trouble, later falling asleep in his hiding spot. He said he doubted that such a hyperactive boy could be ordered to stay quiet for the five hours he was missing.

Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm-chaser, a handyman and contractor and has been an aspiring reality-TV star. The family appeared on the ABC unscripted show "Wife Swap," and the show's producer said it had had a show in development with the Heenes but the deal was now off.

TLC said that Heene had pitched a reality show to the network months ago, but that it passed on the offer.

Heene told reporters Saturday that he didn't have cable.

"I'm going to place the box out front. Please write your questions down, because friends are telling me they're saying this and that. I have no idea what the news is saying," Heene said.

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