Just as the story of little 6-year-old balloon boy Falcon Heene dominated the news coverage via television and internet on Thursday, the story that the runaway balloon and the boy that wasn’t in it was one elaborate hoax became the most popular topic of coverage on Friday. By 3 p.m. EST, the Top 20 Google Trends terms had 18 trending topics devoted to Falcon Heene, Richard Heene, and the balloon boy story and the possible hoax. Just as galvanized as people had been over the drama that the little 6-year-old boy had possibly been caught in the runaway balloon, people were equally intent on the conflicting reports that the story might be or might not be a hoax.
After apprehensively watching for a couple hours as an experimental balloon flew 80 miles from its home mooring, hoping that the little 6-year-old boy that supposedly crawled into its basket would survive the crash, most were torn between relief, shock, and growing unease when it was discovered that little Falcon Heene wasn’t in the balloon at all. Then began the search on the ground for a basket that might have come loose from the bottom of the balloon while in flight. At around 4 p.m., Falcon Heene, becoming bored from hiding for four and a half hours, climbed out the box he had been hiding in within the garage attic and made his presence known.
Richard Heene, with Falcon Heene in his arms, walked out and told the gathered reporters what had happened. One reporter asked if it had all been a hoax. Richard Heene asked how he could say such a thing.
But the idea that it was a hoax started circulating when speculation began to pivot around the experimental balloon not being able to lift off with a 6-year-old boy in the basket. It got a little worse, especially among bloggers, after the balloon boy, Falcon Heene, was “found”. With all the information becoming known about Richard Heene and the Heene family, the possibility was beginning to look more and more likely that the balloon boy incident was indeed a hoax. And then, during an interview on CNN, Richard Heene turned to little Falcon and asked why he didn’t answer when his name was being called. Falcon Heene said, “You guys said that… we did this for a show.”
When Wolf Blitzer asked about what Falcon had said, Richard Heene said, “I’m kind of appalled after all the feelings that I went through up and down that you guys are trying to suggest something else.”
That phrase was the line heard around the world. And instead of a little boy’s balloon misadventure, a tale of how 6-year-old Falcon Heene had hidden away while his parents and countless others chased down a runaway experimental balloon and searched for hours for him while the world watched, the story became whether or not Richard Heene and his family had engineered a hoax.
But there are those that believe that the parents efforts to find their missing child and their fears that he might have been aboard the runaway balloon were genuine. At a press conference on Friday, Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said several times that the event seemed to be a real and credible. The Sheriff said that the Heenes “expressed statements, non verbal communication, body language, and emotions that were consistent with the events taking place.”
According to TMZ, the 911 call that Richard and Mayumi Heene made came after Richard Heene called the FAA about the runaway balloon and 9 News, a local television station, in order to get their help in tracking it because he knew they had a helicopter.
The Heenes reportedly seemed unconcerned that the police wanted to take Falcon aside to be questioned alone and perfunctorily gave their permission.
Many believe that criminal charges should be brought against the Heenes if it is found that they are indeed the perpetrators of a hoax. However, according to Detroit Police Chief and former Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans, it does not appear that Richard Heene or his wife broke any laws or engineered a hoax. “It was only a hoax because the media and others jumped on it and made a spectacle out of it. It’s not like they filed a false report or said something happened that didn’t happen.”
Sheriff Alderden, according to AHN, told reporters that all first responders — local, state, and federal — had been mobilized during the search.
Although Richard Heene and family may have done nothing illegal leading up to and during the search for their son, Falcon, the balloon boy incident cost that particular area of Colorado — the balloon path and subsequent searches for the boy covered an area that included several counties and the city of Denver — a considerable amount of money, even in just the short amount of time they were mobilized. And if the matter is actually found to have been a hoax, legal action might be considered in order to recoup the expense.