Colo. sheriff bursts story of ‘balloon boy’
During Sunday’s hourlong news conference, Sheriff Alderden said he was initially convinced that the Heenes were telling the truth. It wasn’t until Falcon said, “You said we did this for a show,” during a CNN interview Thursday night that the sheriff realized he had been duped, he said.
“If you look at the nonverbal responses, as well as some of the verbal cues, not only for him but from the family, the children, their reaction - it became very clear to us at that point that they were lying,” Sheriff Alderden said.
He said he later discovered that the Heenes were “actors” who had met at an acting school in Hollywood.
“Needless to say, they put on a very good show for us, and we bought it,” Sheriff Alderden said.
At that point, department officials indulged in a little trickery of their own, concealing their suspicions about the Heenes in the hope of gaining a confession. Sheriff Alderden continued to state publicly that he believed the family’s version of events in order to coax Mr. Heene into coming to headquarters by himself, ostensibly to pick up the balloon.
Once there, Mr. Heene was persuaded to sit for an interview. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Mr. Heene, other investigators raced to the family’s home in order to speak with his wife and sons without his presence.
Sheriff Alderden said he was unable to confirm whether the Heenes confessed or whether they took polygraph tests, but the interviews gave him enough evidence to obtain search warrants for their home. Deputies executed the warrants Saturday night, taking computers, videos, contracts, documents and financial records.
Sheriff’s officials plan to meet with FBI and Federal Aviation Administration officials this week to determine whether federal charges are warranted, said Sheriff Alderden.
“We needed to maintain a good rapport with this family so that we could get them to voluntarily come in,” Undersheriff Ernie Hudson said. “Our plan worked.”
Sheriff Alderden acknowledged that some remarks he made to the media were less than sincere. “I think we bumped against the line of misleading the media. … For that, I apologize,” he said.
He added that he confided in several “trusted media folks,” saying that they knew what he was doing from the beginning. The sheriff didn’t name the reporters but implied that they were locally based and he had worked with them in the past.
Asked whether he could now be trusted, Sheriff Alderden laughed and swore “on John Wayne” that he was now telling the truth.
If convicted, the Heenes could be compelled to pay restitution for the man-hours spent tracking the balloon and investigating the case, although the department hasn’t compiled those figures, Sheriff Alderden said. Among other things, the rescue effort involved flights by military helicopters, a mounted posse and the rerouting of some airline flights around Denver International Airport.
The Heene family made two previous 911 calls this year, in February and in August. One was a hang-up that was later attributed to the children “messing with the phone,” said Sheriff Alderden, but the other appeared to involve domestic abuse.
The district attorney ultimately concluded that the case lacked sufficient evidence to file charges. Mrs. Heene was given the option of moving Saturday into a “safe house” instead of returning home, but opted to go back to her husband.