Published October 16, 2009
Colorado authorities said the Heene family's balloon saga shows no indication it was a hoax, but a video taken of the homemade helium balloon as it floated away raises more questions about the incident.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said Friday he has no evidence to believe the Heene family carried out a publicity stunt when their balloon broke away Thursday with their 6-year-old son mistakenly thought to be inside.
The boy was found hiding in the home's garage Thursday afternoon, hours after the balloon launched and traveled more than 50 miles.
But a home video released Friday shows that the boy, Falcon Heene, was nowhere near the balloon as it floated off — despite claims from the boy's 10-year-old brother that Falcon was inside the balloon when it broke away. The boy's father, Richard Heene, is also seen standing next to the balloon as it flew from the family's backyard.
Alderden said 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.
Still, Alderden said authorities will reinterview the family following remarks made by Falcon Thursday night in which he said "we did this for a show" — raising questions over whether the incident was an elaborate publicity stunt.
"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."
Falcon disappeared around the time his family's homemade helium balloon floated away from their home, setting off a national uproar as authorities scoured the plains of northern Colorado for the youngster. He was later found hiding in the rafters of the family's garage.
"It seems much more likely that the boy was frightened because he saw that he was responsible for this device from becoming untethered," Alderden said.
During a live interview on CNN Thursday night, Falcon said he heard his family calling his name as he hid in the rafters of their garage. At the time, there was a frantic effort to bring down the balloon safely.
Falcon's father asked, "Why didn't you come out?" The boy answered, "You had said we did this for a show."
Later, Richard Heene bristled when the family was asked to clarify and said he didn't know what his son meant. He didn't ask his son what he meant by "a show."
"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," Richard Heene said.
After the CNN interview, Richard 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."
The boys' parents — Richard Heene and his wife, Mayumi — are storm chasers who appeared twice in the ABC reality show "Wife Swap."
And in addition to attaining a level of reality TV fame on the series, Richard Heene has his own amateur video series on YouTube in which he sizes up various pop culture phenomena.
In February, a Colorado sheriff's deputy responded to a 911 hang-up.
The Larimer County Sheriff's deputy who went to the home said he heard a man yelling and, once inside, noticed Mayumi Heene had a mark on her cheek and broken blood vessels in her eye. She said it was because of a problem with her contacts.
Richard Heene said he was yelling because his children stayed up past their bedtime.
No charges were filed.
Mayumi Heene, Falcon's mother, told reporters Thursday that "It was a miracle to see him" after his was found hiding in the attic.
Richard Heene said the family was working on an experimental craft.
"I call it the 3D LAV, a low-altitude vehicle for people to pull out of their garage and hover above traffic for about 50 or 100 feet," he told reporters. "It's very early stages of the invention."
Richard Heene's "Fake or Real" videos are little more than amusing first-person rants, delivered solo directly into the camera and typically lasting barely a minute.
In one video, dated Jan. 18, 2008, Heene takes on the airplane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr.
"I don't know why it would make any sense to me," Heene says, while driving in a car.
It often is difficult to tell if Heene is joking or being serious. In another clip he makes fun of people who say they see life on Mars.
"I want you guys to let me know," he says before going into a five minute tirade with a NASA photo of Mars' surface on his computer screen.
Using computer photo software he zooms in on random images and points out what could be "signs of life" — a bone, a skeleton key, eyes, high-rise buildings and a miniature skull, just to name a few.
Chiropractors, teleportation inventors and even Hillary Clinton (is she a reptile?) face similar treatment through Heene's lens.
But Heene's brief "Fake or Real" segments are only appetizers compared to some of the other video productions in which has been involved.
Heene also is part of a Web site called thepsyiencedetectives.com. Videos on YouTube show him and two others debating science and pseudo-science issues, such as UFOs, as if auditioning for both Comedy Central and the Discovery Channel.
But while the Web site is prominently displayed and referred to during their videos, a search for the site Thursday night turned up a blank page.
The family also 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.
In a 2007 interview with The Denver Post, Richard Heene described becoming a storm chaser after a tornado ripped off a roof where he was working as a contractor and said he once flew a plane around Hurricane Wilma's perimeter in 2005.
Pursuing bad weather was a family activity, with the children coming along as the father sought evidence to prove his theory that rotating storms create their own magnetic fields.
Although Heene said he had no specialized training, the family had a computer tracking system in its car and a special motorcycle.
The Web site ABC used to promote "Wife Swap" portrays the family members as thrill-seekers.
"When the Heene family aren't chasing storms, they devote their time to scientific experiments that include looking for extraterrestrials and building a research-gathering flying saucer to send into the eye of the storm," the Web site said.
The Heenes were criticized for their chaotic parenting style when Karen Martel of Connecticut entered the household as the new "wife." Martel's husband runs a child-proofing business, and she knew a thing or two about safety.
According to a recap on TVRage.com, the 100th episode finds two families swapping with each other who are returning by a viewers vote.
"One mom believes she is psychic and can speak with the dead, plus has control over the weather. The other is a family of storm chasing science-enthusiasts. The kids in the families will face off in a table meeting"
Attempts by Foxnews.com to contact the Connecticut family they swapped with were not successful.
Foxnews.com's Michelle Maskaly and the Associated Press contributed to this report.