Father of boy in balloon saga meets with officers - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Father of boy in balloon saga meets with officers

By DAN ELLIOTT
Associated Press Writer

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) -- A storm-chasing inventor met with sheriff's officials Saturday amid lingering questions about whether he perpetrated a big hoax when his 6-year-old son vanished into the rafters of his garage for five hours while the world thought he was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon.

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. A few hours later, two other people, including a man wearing a shirt identifying him as a Larimer County sheriff's office victim advocate, arrived at the home, and the boy's mother, Mayumi Heene, left with a man and a woman who said they were with the sheriff's office.

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 balloon was supposed to be tethered to the ground when it lifted off. 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 (expletive) tether down!" and he kicks the wood frame that had held the balloon.

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

Alderden thinks it's 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 five hours.

Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and contractor, and an aspiring reality-TV star.

He and his family appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap" and the show's producer said that it had a show in development with the Heenes but that the deal is now off. TLC also said Heene had pitched a reality show to the network months ago, but it passed on the offer.

Despite his attempts to get on TV, Heene insisted Saturday that he didn't know what kinds of questions were being asked about him because 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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Associated Press writers contributing to this report include P. Solomon Banda in Fort Collins; Judith Kohler, Ivan Moreno and Colleen Slevin in Denver; and Greg Risling, Lynn Elber and Solvej Schou in Los Angeles.

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