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“Clearly, from all indications, Mr. Heene has something of a temper,” Sheriff Alderden said.

He acknowledged that the family presented a flight risk but said he was confident that the Heenes could be tracked down if they disappeared. “Felony warrants will follow them wherever they go,” he said.

Doubts about the Heenes’ story emerged almost immediately after Falcon was found. Sheriff Alderden said questions have been raised about whether the boy was actually hiding in the garage rafters or had been moved to another location during the balloon’s flight.

“For all we know, he may have been two blocks down the road playing on the swing at the city park,” the sheriff said.

The family has appeared twice on the ABC TV show “Wife Swap,” and local television stations have aired several stories about their storm-chasing adventures, including their 2008 trip to follow Hurricane Gustav in Texas.

The Heenes also posted YouTube videos about their quest for adventure and scientific knowledge, including one showing the children rant against a vulgar term for “becoming like wimps.” Mr. Heene lays tile for a living but bills himself as an amateur scientist working to prove his theories on weather and magnetism. Further scrutiny revealed that he has no formal education beyond high school, Sheriff Alderden said.

Said the sheriff: “He may be nutty, but he’s not a professor.”