The same sheriff that said that the balloon boy incident was a “real, credible event” now may be pursuing charges against the Heene family for perpetrating a hoax. Although it is unclear exactly what caused Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden to alter his view, Saturday became a day that seemed diametrically opposed to the two previous days, where Richard Heene and his family spent most of the day avoiding cameras instead of trying to get in front of one. Alderden told reporters Saturday that “there would be criminal charges” in the balloon boy incident but would not elaborate extensively or say who the charges would be brought against.
But Saturday began with Richard Heene standing in front of his home in Fort Collins, Colorado, telling the still gathered reporters that he would have a “big announcement” for them at 10 a.m. When the time came, Richard Heene stepped outside his house with a small cardboard box in his hand, told the gathering to place their questions in the box and he would answer as many as he could at 7:30 p.m. Answering one reporter’s shouted questioned, Heene replied, “Absolutely no hoax.”
Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies arrived to search the house in the afternoon, according to the Associated Press, and took away several boxes of possible evidence and a computer. What was being searched for was not disclosed. But Sheriff Jim Alderdeen said, “We were looking at Class 3 misdemeanor, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances. 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.”
What now appears to be a hoax or publicity stunt devised by the Heene family began as a search for the family’s 6-year-old boy, Falcon. As CNN and other media picked up on unfolding events, it was discovered that the boy might have been in an experimental balloon that had been tethered in the Heene back yard. But when the balloon touched down in a field outside Colorado Springs some 80 miles from its point of departure, the “balloon boy” was not inside. Agencies were mobilized and joined in an extensive search for the now missing boy.
After four and a half hours, Falcon Heene crawled out of a box in his family’s garage attic and was “found.” He said he’d grown bored.
Yet, later that day, in an interview on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, Falcon Heene told his father, who had just asked why he hadn’t come out when he heard people calling his name, “You guys said we did it for a show.”
In the awkward silence that followed, Richard Heene said, “He’s six.” And when Wolf Blitzer asked what the boy meant by his remark, Heene became indignant, said he was “appalled” after all his family had been through that people could think such a thing — that his family had been involved in a hoax.
But the speculation and questioning never stopped. Saturday evening’s statement by Larimer County Sheriff Alderden suggests that they will continue.
The Heene family were questioned Saturday. When they exited the police station, Richard Heene told reporters the obvious, “”I was talking to the sheriff’s department just now.” He then said that the family was alright and they drove away.
It is unclear where the Heene family spent the night.
The idea that the balloon boy incident was a hoax began circulating even before Falcon Heene made his presence known around 4 p.m. on Thursday in front of a worldwide audience. Speculation that the balloon could not even carry the boy had led to speculation that he might be hiding. When it was learned that the Heene family were the same family that had appeared on ABC’s “Wife Swap” twice and had been pitching a reality show series to networks, the internet buzz and mainstream media turned to the question of the entire “balloon boy incident” being a hoax.
It now appears that it indeed was a hoax. Just what and who were involved in the hoax, however, is not certain, but with charges being sought by the county sheriff, it appears that the Heene family have violated at least one local law.
As hoaxes go, it isn’t the first time an event was portrayed as something it was not or was interpreted by the public as a hoax. The most famous hoax ever, of course, was the “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938. It was not even meant as a hoax but as a realistic dramatization for Halloween. Still, the wild fears of a public run rampant when hearing of the Martian invasion caused mass panic, even though it was clearly stated several times that what listeners were hearing was a play. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, it was once estimated that over one million people panicked that night, but recent estimates place it at a far lower number.
More recently, hoaxes have centered around cryptids, or unidentified animals such as Bigfoot or the chupacabra. In August 2008, two self-proclaimed Georgia Bigfoot trackers claimed to have found and placed in a freezer the remains of a Bigfoot. Calling a press conference and enlisting the help of Bigfoot experts, Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer even sent off a sample of DNA of their “Bigfoot remains” to be tested. The hoax fell apart when the “remains” inside the freezer were actually examined by a third party and found to be a crumpled gorilla costume. The story of the Georgia Bigfoot reached millions as it was written about and broadcast throughout the world.
What is now being dubbed the Heene family balloon boy hoax was watched by millions around the world as people watched anxiously as the runaway balloon the 6-year-old was thought to be in made its way southeast across Colorado. Major networks like CNN followed the story extensively. When the boy was not found inside, concern remained that he may have fallen out during the two hours the balloon was in flight. But the concern turned to relief when the boy made his presence known. The relief turned to public outrage when Falcon made his honest on-air admission and by 9 p.m. Thurday evening, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was reporting that over 90% of his e-mails and blog comments were reflecting that people believed it to be a hoax.
Although Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden did not actually say what charges the Heene family were facing or who might be faces charges (nor did he say that they had perpetrated a hoax), it is now clear that authorities now believe that the balloon boy incident deserves charges to be brought for some type of wrongdoing.
“Anderson Cooper 360,” CNN Television