Published October 17, 2009
A student who says he worked with Richard Heene, the amateur scientist from Colorado whose family is being scrutinized after the high-flying balloon scare involving his 6-year-old son, claims to have proof that the incident was not an accident, according to The Business Insider.
The student, who remains anonymous, told The Business Insider that he worked with Heene in 2009 on potential reality show proposals to pitch to ABC, one of which was similar to the incident Thursday in which the boy was feared carried away in a homemade balloon -- only to be found safe back at home.
The saga grew stranger by the day. Richard Heene knocked on the windows of journalists camped outside his home early Saturday and promised a "big announcement" in a few hours, then did an about-face when he told reporters that they should leave questions in a cardboard box on the front doorstep.
"Absolutely no hoax. I want your questions in the box," Heene said, waving a cardboard box before going back in the home.
A circus-like atmosphere formed outside the home, including men holding signs and occasionally yelling "balloon boy." One sign read, "Put balloon boy on TV: America's Most Wanted."
Others carried aluminum foil stovetop popcorn makers that resembled the silvery balloon launched from the family's backyard Thursday, with 6-year-old Falcon believed to be onboard.
A man pulled a red wagon with coffee for sale. The sign had "$2" scratched out with a new price of $1. Some neighbors stopped by to drop questions of their own in the box.
Richard Heene later left the house in a red minivan and drove to the sheriff's office. Soon afterward, a man who told reporters he and a woman with him were from the sheriff's department entered the house.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden has said that he wanted to re-interview the family after Falcon told CNN that "you said we did this for a show" when asked why he didn't come out of his hiding place. Then Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews when asked why he hid.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Eloise Campanella said she couldn't comment on the details of the investigation, including whether investigators were questioning Heene or the rest of the family.
"We're trying to figure things out. That's all I can say," she said.
The Business Insider's source said that he and Heene pitched a show that would include several pranks, one of which was similar to the high-flying balloon incident.
"When Mr. Heene is denying having any involvement with this being for a show — when the little kid, Falcon, says 'Dad, you said to go hide in the attic, we're doing this for the show' — and then he's adamantly denying that, that's when I started cracking up because I have proof that that's not true," said the student, according to The Business Insider.
The quote refers to what 6-year-old Falcon said during a live television interview on CNN Thursday.
Falcon's father asked him, "Why didn't you come out [from the attic]?" The boy answered, "You had said we did this for a show."
The Larimer County Sheriff's Office spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on the student's allegations when contacted by Foxnews.com.
Heene announced Saturday that he would hold a press conference under the pretense of making a "big announcement," but instead left reporters a box in which they could leave their questions. He promised to answer them later in the day.
Police said Friday that they think the parents' fear for their boy was genuine but want to investigate further, after a strange comment the boy made on TV and the release of a home video of the balloon's takeoff.
Child Protective Services has also reportedly been asked to interview Falcon Heene's family and Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said they would "probably open an investigation."
ABC News reported Alderden as saying he requested CPS wait to interview the boy and his family until after law enforcement was able to question the family Saturday.
He called the move to contact CPS standard in cases involving children.
Falcon Heene was believed to have been trapped Thursday in a 20-foot homemade helium balloon shaped like a flying saucer after it escaped into the air from the family's backyard. As a national TV audience watched the live footage unfold, authorities chased the balloon for 50 miles before it crashed gently in a field, revealing that no one was inside.
That spawned an extensive ground search that ended when Falcon turned up back at home, saying that he had been in an attic above the garage the whole time.
The family is familiar with the media spotlight, most notably in appearances on the ABC series "Wife Swap," and the father, Richard Heene, is an avid storm-chaser who has helped produced videos on various science and pseudo-science issues. The family's background and some strange developments since the scare have raised questions about whether the family cooked up a hoax as publicity stunt.
On Friday, after numerous TV appearances about the incident, the family said — in a note posted on the door of the family's home — that it was taking a break from the spotlight for now.
"Thank you for all of your support. We are not taking any interview any more," the note reads. "We are tired. Thank you. Heenes."
Police said Friday they had no evidence of a hoax — though they wanted to interview the family members once more to go over their story. At the same time, the family released a home video that appears to show the moment when the balloon took off.
Richard Heene has described the balloon as an experimental craft intended to hover in the air low to the ground, and he can be seen in the video cursing as the balloon comes untethered and rises into the sky. Falcon is nowhere to be seen.
Heene and his wife, Mayumi, have said they didn't think Falcon was in the balloon until one of their other sons said he had seen the boy climb into an attached compartment. The parents can be heard on the 911 call frantically seeking authorities' help, fearing the boy could be hit by passing planes or shocked by the balloon's electrical system.
Alderden said Friday he has no evidence to believe the Heene family carried out a publicity stunt, adding that any suggestion that the boy was coached to hide seems "inconceivable."
"They appropriately expressed statements — nonverbal communication, body language and emotions during this event that were very consistent with the events that were taking place," Alderden said of the family in a press conference Friday. "It seems much more likely that the boy was frightened because he saw that he was responsible for this device from becoming untethered."
Still, Alderden said authorities will reinterview the family following the remarks Falcon made on TV.
"We believe at this time that it was a real event. Certainly people are free to speculate," he said, adding that if the episode "turns out to be a hoax, we will seek restitution by whatever means we have available."
Richard Heene bristled when the family was asked to clarify Falcon's comment. Heene said he didn't know what his son meant.
"I'm kind of appalled after all the feelings that I went through, up and down, that you guys are trying to suggest something else," Heene said.
After the CNN interview, Heene told KUSA-TV in Denver that he thought his son was referring to earlier in the day when he showed reporters his hiding spot. He didn't return a message from The Associated Press.
Richard Heene said accusations that the ordeal was a publicity stunt are "extremely pathetic."
Mayumi Heene told reporters Thursday that "it was a miracle to see him" after Falcon was found hiding in the attic.
The family has been featured on local TV station for their somewhat interesting "family vacations" — storm chasing.
"What my kids learn from these storms and what they walk away with is the fact that these storms can be very deadly," Heene tells TV station KMGH in video posted on YouTube. "They see what happens when houses are caught in the path of destruction. Now, we always avoided paths of destruction when we go."
On the videos the children are seen photographing the storms and being extremely active in the chasing process.
"I feel like I need to share this with him," Heene told the station, adding that safety is always his first priority.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.