Oct 182009
 
Authors: Kirsten Silveira

After a whirlwind of speculation surrounding the “balloon boy” stunt where 6-year-old Falcon Heene was thought to have floated away over northeastern Colorado in a homemade aircraft, Larimer County officials announced yesterday that the whole ordeal was a hoax.

Investigative Sergeant Ian Stewart said Falcon Heene’s parents Richard and Mayumi Heene are facing possible charges of:

– Contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a class four felony

– Attempting to influence a public servant, a class four felony

– False Reporting, a class three misdemeanor, and

– Conspiracy

He said the possible class four felonies could result in four to six years in prison and fines between $2,000 and $4,000. The class for the conspiracy charge has yet to be determined.

The Heenes put the hoax into motion Thursday morning when Richard Heene called a 911 dispatcher claiming his son had floated away in a makeshift aircraft that became untethered from his backyard.

The balloon floated over Larimer, Weld and Adams counties for over two hours before landing in a dirt field north of Denver International Airport without the equipment box originally attached to the bottom of the craft or Falcon Heene.

Search parties later found the boy hiding in a box in the attic of his house.

However, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said in days following the incident his department “obtained enough probable cause” to search Heene’s home for financial records, media recordings, computer e-mails and documents, contracts and plans to participate in a reality TV show. The search was conducted Saturday evening.

Alderden said that throughout the investigation, the family’s story remained consistent, and the parents allowed investigators to question the children without being present in addition to opening their house to a search. Their cooperation led his team to discredit the suspicion that the incident was nothing more than a publicity stunt.

“It wasn’t until Larry King when the family was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer when we had the ah-ha moment,” Alderden said, later adding, “We were clearly manipulated by the family.”

Following the interview, the department mobilized officers and investigators with orders to force a confession by cultivating the already “trusting” relationship they had with the family.

Alderden alluded to conducting a polygraph on both the parents but said because of CO. rules 3.6 and 3.8 he was unable to reveal if the tests were conducted or the results of the tests.

Saturday Richard Heene voluntarily came to the sheriff’s office and agreed to answer questions, and while the interviews were being conducted, investigators visited Mayumi Heene and their three sons at the family’s home.

To determine if the balloon — a 20-foot by 5-foot dome made of plastic tarps and aluminum foil and filled with helium — was capable of taking off, officials consulted CSU physics professor Brian Jones. Jones was provided with the dimensions of the aircraft, and he determined the utility box — constructed of cardboard, string and duct tape — could indeed support a 37-pound child.

Regardless of the balloon’s capability to support Falcon, it left the ground without it’s alleged passenger. Alderden said that the department “has serious doubts” as to where the 6-year-old was actually hiding during the hoax, a result of the less-than-thorough search of the household.

“For all we know he could have been two blocks down the street playing at the city park,” Alderden said.

In addition to the possible charges being brought against the Heenes, Child Protective Services has been informed of the incident and has pulled a case number. The children are still in the custody of the parents.

Alderden said that he had no doubts the children were “100 percent involved” in the stunt, and from what he can see, Mr.Heene “clearly has somewhat of a temper.”

Previous to the 911 call about the balloon Thursday, there had been two hang-up calls to the local police department from the Heenes household, in Feb. and Aug. of this year. The first was determined to be a juvenile, but the second was classified as “suspicious circumstances.”

Alderden said that they have reason to believe the second call was a result of domestic violence “perhaps to the wife,” but the case had insufficient evidence.

Saturday night Mr.Heene failed to show up at a press conference he had scheduled for the media and instead relocated his family to the Comfort Inn for the night. The Heenes have consulted the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization dedicated to the advocacy of individual rights, as legal council.

Alderden later revealed that the family had strict orders to not return to their residence under threat of arrest.

During the press conference, officials revealed that Mr.Heene lays tile as an “independent contractor” in Fort Collins and has no education past a high school diploma. Mr. and Mrs. Heene met at an acting school in Los Angeles, which Alderden said explains why their reaction to Falcons “disappearance” was unflawed.

The Heene family also appeared on ABC’s show WifeSwap in March.

Alderden also said at least one media outlet agreed to pay the family, although it’s unclear whether the payment is for putting on the hoax or for an interview after the fact.

The sheriff’s departments from Larimer, Weld and Adams counties are compiling the amount of money spent on mobilizing their individual response services. Alderden said that if the District Attorney accepts the possible charges and the case goes to court, the departments plan to seek restitution.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s department has put a three-year timeline on this case but will not be conducting interviews or press conferences until charges are filed and accepted.

“[The hoax] was a great success but these people are looking at some severe consequences,” Alderden said.

Senior Reporter Kirsten Silveira can be reached at news@collegian.com

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