Balloon boy drama was hoax: police



FORT COLLINS, Jeanie Stokes- The runaway balloon saga that gripped the United States was a hoax concocted by the family involved in a bid to secure a contract for a reality television show, police confirmed Sunday.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said Richard Heene and his Japanese-born wife Mayumi had fabricated Thursday's drama when their six-year-old son Falcon was reported to have flown away on a home-made helium balloon.



Balloon boy drama was hoax: police
Falcon Heene was later discovered alive after hiding in an upstairs attic at the family home for several hours, a bizarre ending to a televised drama that drew immediate suspicions of a hoax.
Alderden revealed at a press conference that the Heene parents had first met during a Hollywood acting class -- and successfully conned officers last Thursday into thinking that they were distraught as the tension mounted.
"Needless to say they put on a very good show for us and we bought it," Alderden told reporters. "These people are actors... We were manipulated by the family and the media were manipulated by the family."
"The plan was to create a situation where it appeared Falcon was in the craft and that his life was in jeopardy in order to gain a lot of publicity with the ultimate goal of gaining some notoriety and perhaps furthering their careers by gaining a contract for a reality TV show," Alderden explained.
"On the bizarre meter, this rates a 10."
Alderden also revealed for the first time that the Heenes' three sons -- aged 10, eight and six -- were also in on the scam.
The Heenes had previously appeared together on an episode of the reality television series "Wife Swap" earlier this year, where they were portrayed as a family of storm-chasing amateur scientists who conduct wacky experiments from launching rockets to searching for extra-terrestrials.
But Alderden ridiculed Richard Heene's portrayal of himself as a scientist. "His education level is only high school," Alderden said. "He may be nutty, but he's not a professor."
Alderden confirmed that Heene and his wife are expected to face felony and misdemeanor charges of conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, attempting to influence a public servant, and filing a false report. The couple's children were unlikely to face charges because of their young age.
The most serious felony charge -- attempting to influence a public official -- could in theory see the Heenes jailed for between two to six years, law enforcement sources said.
David Lane, a lawyer who is representing the Heenes, said in a statement read by CNN that the family was "more than willing to voluntarily turn themselves in to face any charges which may be filed against them."
Lane added that he hoped to avoid "the public spectacle and humiliation of having the police publicly arrest two people who are presumed innocent, perhaps even in the presence of their children, when they are absolutely willing to turn themselves in and fully cooperate with law enforcement in this matter."
Alderden said authorities' suspicions were first raised late Thursday when Falcon Heene blurted out during a television interview on CNN that "we did this for a show."
"If you look at the non-verbal responses as well as some of the verbal cues, not only from him but from the family, from the children, the reaction, it became very clear to us at that point that they were lying," Alderden said.
Armed with those suspicions, police interviewed Richard Heene and his wife separately on Saturday, Alderden said.
Police later Sunday allowed reporters to inspect the home-made balloon at the center of the hoax and revealed it had been constructed with common household materials, mainly aluminum foil and plastic trash bags.
Meanwhile a college student who discussed possible ideas with Heene for a reality television show on Sunday revealed the idea of staging a publicity stunt involving a flying-saucer shaped balloon was mooted several months ago.
Robert Thomas, 25, made the disclosure on Gawker.com, referring to a memo by Heene charting possible ideas for episodes of a reality television series.
"We will modify a weather balloon, so that it resembles a UFO and will electrically charge the skin of the craft," Heene wrote.
"... the result will be a dramatic increase in local and national awareness about The Heene Family, our Reality Series, as well as the UFO Phenomenon in general."
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Monday, October 19th 2009
Jeanie Stokes
           


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