Charges Considered in Balloon Incident

By Dan Elliott
Associated Press
Sunday, October 18, 2009

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Oct. 17 -- A Colorado sheriff said Saturday he was pursuing criminal charges in the case of a 6-year-old boy who vanished into the rafters of his garage while the world thought he was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon.

The boy's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, met with Larimer County investigators for much of the afternoon. Sheriff Jim Alderden did not say who would be charged or what the charges would be.

Alderden did not call Thursday's hours-long drama a hoax, but he expressed disappointment that he couldn't level more serious charges in the incident. Police and the military had scrambled to save young Falcon Heene as millions of television viewers watched.

"We were looking at Class 3 misdemeanor, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances," Alderden said. "We are talking to the district attorney, federal officials to see if perhaps there aren't additional federal charges that are appropriate in this circumstance."

He said that deputies were seeking a search warrant for the family's home, and that there would be more information at a news conference Sunday.

Earlier Saturday, outside his home, Richard Heene told reporters the incident was not "absolutely no hoax."

A circus-like atmosphere formed outside the home, including men holding signs and occasionally yelling, "Balloon boy." One sign read, "Put balloon boy on TV: America's Most Wanted." Other gawkers carried aluminum-foil stovetop popcorn makers that resembled the silvery balloon launched from the family's backyard Thursday, with Falcon Heene, 6, believed to be onboard.

Alderden had said he wanted to talk to the family again after Falcon turned to his father during a CNN interview and said, "You said we did this for a show" when asked why he did not come out of his hiding place. Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews when asked why he hid.

The balloon was supposed to be tethered to the ground when it lifted off, and no one was supposed to be aboard. A video of the launch shows the family counting down in unison, "3, 2, 1," before Richard Heene pulls a cord, setting the balloon into the air.

"Whoa!" one of the boys exclaims. Then his father says in disbelief, "Oh, my God!"

Falcon's brother said he saw him inside the compartment before it took off, which was why they thought he was in there when it launched.

Alderden said earlier that he thinks it is likely Falcon ran off because he was afraid of getting in trouble, later falling asleep in his hiding spot. He said he doubted that such a hyperactive boy could be ordered to stay quiet for the five hours he was missing.

Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and contractor, and an aspiring reality-TV star. He and his family appeared on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company