The balloon boy saga of Falcon Heene that so enraptured the world Thursday now may go down in history as a big hoax. After chasing the balloon for two hours, finding it empty, and mounting a counties-wide search, the story still would have had a happy ending once the boy found (actually, Falcon Heene came out of hiding) had it not been for a comment made by the 6-year-old star of the moment. Falcon Heene told his father on CNN that he did it “for the show.” Now, most believe that the entire incident was an elaborate hoax concocted by Falcon’s father, Richard Heene, a self-styled storm chaser and inventor.
But was the balloon boy incident an elaborate hoax?
Like many millions around the world, I watched the events of the missing 6-year-old balloon boy, Falcon Heene, unfold in Colorado live on CNN (others may have watched on other stations and on the internet). I also kept up with the “balloon boy” story on Associated Press and other news agencies online. The story was one of moment, a gripping mystery drama of a missing child and thousands of people mobilized to help find him, especially after the balloon came down and no boy was inside. But a few hours later, the collective relief of millions living Falcon Heene’s parents’ concerns and fears vicariously turned quickly to outrage and disgust when little Falcon Heene answered a question posed by his father, Richard Heene, on CNN.
After hours of searching for 6-year-old Falcon Heene around his Fort Collins, Colorado, home and the counties along the path the balloon took, he was found in a box in the attic of the family’s garage. He said he had been afraid to come out at first. When asked why he finally did come out, he said that he had grown bored.
A typical response from a typical 6-year-old child who had hidden because he had done something wrong: at around 11:30 MST, Falcon Heene had untethered his father’s experimental balloon. His 7-year-old brother told Richard and Mayumi Heene, Falcon’s parents, that he had seen his little brother climb aboard the balloon just before it lifted off. The authorities were contacted and the balloon was tracked for 80 miles until it came down outside of Colorado Springs two hours later. In the meantime, the Fort Collins residence of the Heene’s and their neighborhood were searched. Search parties got underway for the areas along which the balloon passed over, just in case the boy had fallen out of the balloon.
At about 4 p.m. MST, Falcon Heene got bored.
The distraught father, Richard Heene, spoke with reporters outside his home, the mischievous-looking Falcon in his arms. If most felt as did I, you wanted to hug the little guy and scream at him at the same time for putting such a scare into so many people, but most especially his parents. But a little later, Richard Heene appeared with Falcon on CNN. He turned to his son and asked him why he hadn’t come out when people were calling his name. Falcon Heene said, “You guys said we did it for the show.”
And everything seemed to stop. What? Could our collective ears have misheard? What did he just say? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer attempted to get some clarity. But Richard Heene chose to show outrage, telling Blitzer that he was “appalled” that after the “ups and downs” his family had been through that day that anyone could think that it had been a hoax.
In an interview Friday, Richard Heene said that those who thought it was a hoax were “pathetic.”
But Falcon Heene’s words, plus the Richard Heene family’s filming (he and his wife, according to Fox News, once did filmmaking in California) and reality show past (the family starred in an episode of ABC’s “Wife Swap”), have directed the public’s attention toward a possible hoax motive.
Could a person be that attention needy? Possibly. But interviews with neighbors and authorities involved have all been supportive of the Heene family and their mischievous balloon boy. Most wave off any talk of a hoax.
For this writer, however, the possibility exists of it being a hoax, especially after Falcon Heene’s little line on CNN. The idea of the balloon boy incident being a hoax just to gain attention for the family for some kind of project they may be involved in should not be discredited out of hand. But neither should the idea that it is a hoax be given merit simply because of it is the popular interpretation of an ambiguous phrase uttered by a 6-year-old boy and the fact that they have lived on the periphery of the television world for years.
It might very well have been a hoax. If so, it was an entertaining hoax.