A sheriff says a Colorado couple’s report that their 6-year-old son was in a balloon that was hurtling away from their home was a publicity stunt.
Sheriff Jim Alderden says Richard and Mayumi Heene “put on a very good show for us, and we bought it.”
The sheriff says no charges have been filed yet, and the parents aren’t under arrest. But he says he expects to recommend charges of conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
He says all three of the couple's children knew of balloon hoax, but likely won’t face charges because of their ages.
Mr. Alderden says interviews with the parents Saturday resulted in enough information to get a warrant to search the house. He says they were looking for computers, e-mails, phone records and financial records.
The parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, met with Larimer County investigators for much of Saturday afternoon amid questions about why their 6-year-old son Falcon vanished into the rafters of the family’s garage while the world thought he was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon. The incident sent police and the military scrambling to save young Falcon Heene as millions of worried television viewers watched.
Suspicion that the balloon saga was a hoax arose almost immediately after Falcon was found hiding in the garage attic. Mr. Heene, an inventor whose family has appeared on the ABC television reality show Wife Swap, and his wife had said one of the boy’s older brothers said Falcon was aboard the homemade balloon when it took off.
Mr. Alderden initially said there was no reason to believe the incident was a hoax. Authorities questioned the Heenes again after Falcon turned to his dad during a CNN television interview Thursday night and said “you said we did this for a show” when asked why he didn’t come out of his hiding place.
Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews Friday when asked again why he hid.
After the sheriff spoke to reporters Saturday, Richard Heene and his wife walked out of his office after meeting with officials for several hours.
As reporters yelled questions, Mr. Heene said: “I was talking to the sheriff’s department just now.” He then walked to his car with his wife and a friend and drove away. It wasn’t clear where the family spent Saturday night.
The Heenes have said the balloon was supposed to be tethered to the ground when it lifted off, and no one was supposed to be 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 (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. Mr. Heene said he had yelled at Falcon before the launch for getting inside.
Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and contractor, and an aspiring reality-TV star.
The producer of Wife Swap said it had a show in development with the Heenes but the deal is now off. TLC also said Mr. Heene had pitched a reality show to the network months ago, but it passed on the offer.