The case of a giant Mylar balloon, which ascended into the sky late last week amid fears a 6-year-old boy was aboard, has been determined to be a “hoax” and a “publicity stunt,” Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff Jim Alderden said today.
Alderden says they plan on filing charges soon – one of which would be contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which is a felony. The other charges could be conspiracy, false reporting and attempt to influence an officer.
The kids will probably not face charges, Alderden says, because of their age. Alderden says Child Protective Servics has been notified and will be conducting an investigation.
Alderden says the hoax was a “planned event for two weeks.”
Alderden said that if the charges do go forward, they will seek restitution for all the expenses the county incurred.
The family of the Fort Collins boy, Falcon Heene, engineered the incident in order to better market themselves for a reality television show, Alderden told reporters at a news conference.
The incident Thursday prompted a widespread search, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Colorado National Guard. It ended when Falcon climbed down from the attic above the garage at the family’s home.
Earlier today, sheriff’s deputies were seen entering and leaving the Heene home.
A dispatcher with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department declined to release any information about the search.
“We anticipate criminal charges will be filed sometime in the near future,” Alderden said last night.
Speculation over whether Thursday’s incident, which prompted a widespread search, was a hoax has mounted against Heene, father of three young boys.
Heene and his wife, Mayumi, have insisted their fears over Falcon going were genuine, and not a publicity stunt.
Responding to a reporter’s question about speculation earlier in the day, Heene said, “Absolutely no hoax.”
If it were determined that the incident was a hoax, the only charge local authorities could press would be making a false report to authorities – a Class 3 misdemeanor, Alderden told reporters.
However, a misdemeanor “hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances,” the sheriff said.
He added that investigators and prosecutors may push the case beyond the local level to see “if perhaps there aren’t additional federal charges that would be more appropriate.”
Richard and Mayumi Heene emerged last night from the sheriff’s office after several hours of interviews with investigators.
“I was talking to the sheriff’s department just now to further things along,” Richard Heene told reporters outside the building. “We’re doing well.”
He declined to take questions before the couple drove away in their minivan.
Earlier in the day, Richard Heene approached reporters outside his home with a cardboard box, asking the media to toss their questions inside it.
“I got people e-mailing me, calling me; they’ve got a lot of questions, and I don’t know how to quite frankly answer any of them other than I’ve got a box,” he said.
He said he’d answer the questions later last night. “I’m going to place the box up front, please write your questions down,” he said. “I have no idea what the news are saying; I don’t have cable.”
Questions over the incident intensified after the family appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Thursday night. Repeating a question from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who was filling in for King, Heene asked his son why he had not come out from hiding when they were calling for him.
“You guys said we did this for the show,” Falcon replied.
Heene told CNN his son was confused when he made the “show” remark. There were media assembled on the front lawn asking all sorts of questions, and that’s what Falcon was referring to, Heene said.