October 17, 2009 in Nation/World

Balloon boy’s family to be reinterviewed

Child’s comments lead to suspicion event was stunt
Deedee Correll Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

Media gather outside the front door of the home of Richard and Mayumi Heene in Fort Collins, Colo., on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

DENVER – The Colorado sheriff whose deputies chased a homemade, mushroom-shaped balloon across three counties before the boy it purportedly was carrying turned up safe at home said Friday that investigators would seek to re-interview the family in light of comments the child made that suggested the incident had been staged.

Asked Thursday night during an appearance with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer why he had not emerged from hiding when he heard people calling for him, 6-year-old Falcon Heene said to his father, Richard: “You had said we did this for a show.”

“Clearly that has raised everyone’s level of skepticism; we feel it’s incumbent to re-interview them and establish if this is a hoax,” Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said at a news conference.

Richard and Mayumi Heene have denied that the runaway helium balloon was part of a publicity stunt.

On Friday morning, Richard Heene told NBC’s “Today” show that what happened was “absolutely not” a hoax. “And now I’m started to get a little ticked off because I’m repetitively getting asked this,” Heene said. “What have I got to gain out of this?”

The family reported Falcon missing from their home in the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins soon after the balloon became untethered and floated away.

An older brother said he had seen Falcon climb aboard before it lifted off. But hours later, the child emerged from the rafters above the garage and explained that he’d concealed himself there after his father had yelled at him earlier in the morning for playing around the balloon.

Alderden said he did not believe the incident was a hoax, despite growing Internet and media chatter that Heene – an amateur scientist and storm-chaser – and his wife had concocted a publicity stunt. The family previously has appeared on the reality television show “Wife Swap,” and the celebrity gossip site TMZ.com reported Friday that Richard Heene recently pitched a reality television series, which cable network TLC turned down.

Alderden said: “People are free to be skeptical about it, but we in law enforcement have to operate on facts and what we can prove.” He noted that upon Falcon’s discovery, the parents agreed to allow investigators to interview him privately. Both the child’s answers and the parents’ demeanor throughout the day convinced detectives that the family was telling the truth.

“Our people didn’t think that could be faked,” Alderden said.

The sheriff described Falcon as a “very hyperactive” boy, and expressed doubt that he would have concealed himself for hours at his parents’ request.

During appearances Friday morning on national television, Falcon twice became ill. On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he ran to a bathroom and vomited. During the interview on NBC, he vomited into a bowl as his father answered questions about whether the event was a hoax.

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