For the second time, a former colleague spoke out against Richard Heene, the father of "balloon boy" Falcon Heene, saying today that Thursday's balloon launch was likely a publicity stunt and that Heene has a history of putting his family in danger.
"I believe that Richard had a plan to send this craft aloft," said Scott Stevens, who used to work as a "storm chaser" with Heene. "Whether it was to leave the illusion that there was a boy on board, I don't know. [But] I believe it was a premeditated launch."
Not just a co-worker at the Science Detective Research Group in Fort Collins, Colo., Stevens said he was friends with Heene until the two had a falling out over Heene's insistence that his three young boys join them on dangerous storm searches where they "just did not need to be."
"I just thought he was beginning to push them into some things that were ethically on the edge. ... I knew at some point he would create a situation that would bring attention like he's having right now. I didn't want to be a part of that," Stevens said.
Although the Heene family is no stranger to publicity, having been featured on the ABC show "Wife Swap," Richard Heene told "Good Morning America" today that any speculation that it was all a publicity stunt was "extremely pathetic.
"We were holding on to every second, hoping that he's OK," Heene told "Good Morning America" today. "I'm not selling anything. This is what we do all the time. I don't have a can of beans I'm trying to promote."
Investigators do not believe the balloon launch was any kind of hoax but plan to reinterview the family today, search leader Sheriff Jim Alderden of Larimer County told "Good Morning America" today.
Stevens said it was also possible Heene videotaped the launch as protection against having the idea for the balloon, which he built, stolen.
"[Richard] is always thinking and always scheming to accomplish his goals," Stevens said. "He's had some wonderful ideas that he's had stolen from him. ... He thinks that if he can have this attention on him and share his ideas, he could get something out of it," Stevens said.
Stevens' comments come a day after another one of his and Heene's colleagues, Barbara Slusser, told ABC News Heene "put the kids in the line of fire a bit too much.
"The last straw for us was when Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike were heading toward the Texas coastline and Heene wanted to go back there and take the kids," she said Thursday. "Those kids went everywhere with us. We took those kids tornado chasing."
But the kids' inclusion was hardly against their will, Slusser said.
"They loved it. They grew up doing this," she said. "[Richard] raised those kids to be scientists, and he wanted them to be scientists and expose them to science at every possible level."
Although Heene's story had a happy ending, child safety experts said the incident underscored the vigilance parents must exercise to keep children safe and avoid tragedy.
Heene's neighbor, Tina Sanchez, told ABC News Thursday that Falcon is "a great kid, very adventurous, and has no fear factor. For him to climb into this balloon would not be out of character. He has a high tolerance for cold, often running around without a jacket."
Slusser said that Heene had no degrees in science but liked to surround himself with people who did, like Slusser.