- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

UPDATED:

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The “balloon boy” saga was nothing but hot air, authorities said Sunday.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden told reporters that the Heene family planned to release the 20-foot homemade helium balloon on purpose and then report that their 6-year-old son Falcon was aboard in the hope of making a deal for their own reality show.

“[I]t has been determined that this was a hoax, that it was a publicity stunt,” Sheriff Alderden said at a press conference Sunday. “[I]t was a publicity stunt done with the hopes of marketing themselves, or better marketing themselves, for a reality television show at some point in the future.”

Sheriff Alderden said his department planned to recommend that the Larimer County district attorney’s office file charges, including conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, filing a false report and attempting to influence a public official.

The most serious charges are Class 4 felonies punishable by a maximum sentence of six years in jail and a $500,000 fine, according to Ian Stewart of the sheriff’s office.

The parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, were not arrested, and their children were left in the custody of their parents pending an investigation by state Child Protective Services, Sheriff Alderden said.

The three Heene sons—Bradford, 10; Ryo, 8, and Falcon—were fully aware of the balloon hoax and involved in the plan to fool authorities, but Sheriff Alderden said it was unlikely they would face charges because of their ages.

The Heenes were seen driving away from their home in Fort Collins on Sunday and were unavailable for comment. Asked Saturday about the veracity of his claims, Mr. Heene told reporters, “Absolutely no hoax.”

The sheriff said he planned to interview others about the case, saying that “clearly there were other people who had some knowledge about this,” which could include the media. He said that at least one media outlet had offered to pay the Heenes for their story, although he refused to name the organization.

Sheriff Alderden added that he never had seen a case like it. “On the bizarre meter, this ranks a 10,” he said.

The Heenes contacted authorities Thursday and reported that they accidentally had released the silver, saucer-shaped balloon and that their oldest son said he had seen Falcon crawl inside a box attached to the bottom of the craft.

State and local agencies tracked the balloon as it flew 50 miles across the state at altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet, touching down near Denver International Airport. Rescuers found no trace of Falcon, leading them to believe he had fallen from the craft, but the boy emerged shortly thereafter and said he had been hiding in his family’s garage attic.

During Sunday’s hourlong press conference, Sheriff Alderden said he initially was convinced the Heenes were telling the truth. It wasn’t until Falcon stated that “You said we did this for a show” during a CNN television interview Thursday night that the sheriff suspected he had been duped.

He said he later discovered that the Heenes were “actors” who had met at an acting school in Hollywood.

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