FORT COLLINS, Colo. —By all accounts, Richard Heene is an unapologetic self-promoter who would pursue all sorts of off-the-wall stunts to get media attention. Flying saucers, mountaintop helicopter stunts, storm chasing, reality TV shows — no gag was beyond his limits.
But would he go so far as to hide his 6-year-old son in the rafters of his garage for five hours and make it seem like the boy floated away in a helium balloon?
It was a question being asked everywhere Friday, one day after the balloon drama unfolded live on television during a frenzied search before little Falcon Heene was found.
The sheriff's office said it does not believe at this point that the balloon episode was a stunt, but investigators planned to question the family again today. Richard Heene denies that the events were a hoax, dismissing such allegations as "extremely pathetic."
Doubts surfaced after a series of bizarre TV interviews, including one on CNN in which Falcon Heene told his parents "you said we did this for a show" when asked why he did not come down from the garage rafters during the search.
The family made the rounds on the morning talk shows Friday, and little Falcon threw up during two separate interviews when asked why he hid.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden acknowledged that Falcon's comments on CNN had clearly "raised everybody's level of skepticism." But, he said, investigators had no reason to believe the whole thing was a hoax.
Alderden said the family seemed genuine during the panic, and he believed events could have unfolded just as they described: Falcon got frightened when his father scolded him for playing inside the balloon, and hid in the garage out of fear.
The sheriff said his office has been flooded with calls and e-mails about the matter. He added that officials "have to operate on what we can prove as a fact and not what people want to be done."
If the balloon ordeal was a hoax, the parents could be charged with making a false report to authorities, a low-level misdemeanor, Alderden said.
He said authorities would need to bring a criminal case before attempting to recoup restitution costs for the thousands of dollars spent to search for the boy.