Child Protective Services to Check Out Falcon Heene's Family

Cops to reinterview balloon boy's family, but sheriff doesn't doubt their story.

October 15, 2009, 2:39 PM

Oct. 16, 2009 — -- Police have asked Child Protective Services to investigate the Colorado family of a boy who was believed to have been aboard a runaway homemade flying saucer, but was later found hiding in his family's garage.

Amid mounting public suspicion that the parents of Falcon Heene, 6, intentionally released the 20-foot balloon in an effort to garner publicity, the Larimer County sheriff said police and child services professionals would interview the boy and his parents.

Sheriff Jim Alderden said Child Protective Services would "probably open an investigation," but asked that they wait until law enforcement officials had an opportunity to question the family Saturday.

Alderden said he believed the boy hid in the rafters and fell asleep there because he thought he was responsible for untethering the aluminum foil balloon.

He said he further believed that the parents were legitimately worried about their son's well-being and that it did not appear to be a hoax or publicity stunt.

Click here to listen to the Heene's 911 call

"We were convinced yesterday having talked to the parents and investigators that the parents were being honest," he said.

He said they "appropriately expressed statements, nonverbal communication, body language and emotions that were entirely consistent with events that were taking place. They believed the boy was in there."

"Our people didn't think [that emotional response] could be faked or was faked," he said.

The sheriff said he doubted the 6-year-old, who allegedly slept during the hunt for him, could have been coached to remain quiet and still during the five-hour search, given his "hyperactive" disposition.

"The suggestion to us that he had been coached to hide and remain still for five hours is inconceivable. It is much more likely he was frightened because he thought he was responsible for the device becoming untethered," Alderden said.

The sheriff said the boy's statements Thursday night on CNN, in which he said "we did this for a show" had raised some new questions about whether the family had planned the incident as part of a hoax. As a result of those comments, the sheriff said he would again interview the family.

"Clearly, that has raised everyone's level of skepticism. We will go back to the family and reinterview them and establish if this is actually a hoax or an actual event," he said.

Police Searched the Heene Home Three Times

The sheriff said police were waiting to interview the boy because he was sick, twice vomiting during morning TV show interviews today.

"We had hoped to do it today, but after watching the boy being sick and the family suffering from fatigue, we thought it in their best interest to not interview them today but perhaps tomorrow after they've settled down and had some rest," he said.

Alderden said sheriff's deputies searched the Heenes' home three times, but never looked in the rafters above the garage because they did not think the area was accessible to a small child. He said the boy climbed on top of a box to the get to the attic.

Alderden added that officials believed it was possible that the aircraft was capable of carrying the boy, answering some critics who claim the flight was a hoax because the device could not conceivably carry that weighty a payload.

Police released a 911 tape of Falcon's parents frantically calling 911 to report that their son was stowed away in the floating balloon.

It was Falcon's mom, Mayumi, who called 911, but she was so distraught, the dispatcher could barely understand what she was saying through her tears about her son floating away in a "flying saucer."

"Does he know how to operate the flying saucer?" the dispatcher asked. "No," the boy's mother wails.

Falcon's father Richard then got on the phone, but he was so distracted that he kept leaving the dispatcher saying, "Hello? Hello?"

When asked if he was certain Falcon was in the aircraft, the father responded: "Yeah, we looked everywhere. And then my son just said ... yeah, he verified it ...He said, 'yeah, he went inside just before it went off'... We had it tethered; it wasn't supposed to take off."

Richard Heene warned the dispatcher that the balloon was headed for a nearby airport.

Toward the end of the call, the 911 dispatcher was left repeating, "Helloooo. Sir? Hellooo?" She then said to a colleague, "My caller is completely gone."

Richard Heene spent the day, since Falcon was found safely hiding in the rafters of his family's garage, on the defensive, insisting that the balloon's takeoff was an accident and not a publicity stunt.

"To have people say that, I think, is extremely pathetic," Richard Heene told "Good Morning America" today, his arm wrapped around son Falcon. "We were holding on to every second, every second, just hoping he might come out OK."

Falcon was found hiding in a cardboard box in the attic above the garage more than two hours after the balloonlike aircraft launched from the family's Fort Collins, Colo., backyard and soared across Colorado.

Boy Said He Feared Getting in Trouble for Messing With Father's Aircraft

Alderden said investigators had initially believed that the family was telling the truth, basing his belief on their interviews and body language.

"They were completely convinced this was the real deal and not a hoax," he said.

But skepticism about the incident was fueled, in large part, by the family's appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" Thursday night in which Falcon said "we did this for a show."

Toward the end of a lengthy interview, guest host Wolf Blitzer asked Richard Heene to ask his son, who could not hear Blitzer, what he meant by the comment. Heene briefly suggested Falcon might have been talking about the family's two appearances on the ABC reality show "Wife Swap."

"Certainly, that statement that was made last night on the interview raises the questions again," Alderden said. "We do intend to go back and try and reinterview the family."

Making the rounds on the morning news programs, Heene explained what he believed Falcon meant when he said, "We did this for a show." The dad told NBC's "Today" that Falcon had showed journalists his hiding place in the garage rafters. "Somebody had asked [Falcon] if he would show them how he got in the attic, so he was obliging them, and one of the guys told him it was for some TV show. So, that's what he was referring to. That's what he was referring to when he made that statement," Heene said.

On "Good Morning America" today, Heene again defended himself and his family, and said they were truly worried they had lost their little boy.

"I'm not selling anything. This is what we do all the time," he said. "I don't have a can of beans I'm trying to promote. This is just another day in the life of what we do."

Falcon said little during the family's "GMA" appearance, briefly running off camera to vomit several times, a side effect of his asthma, Heene explained.

But his older brother, Brad, who initially alerted his parents that he thought his younger brother might have been in the balloon, said that he was "really scared" and feared Falcon might be electrocuted if the balloon hit power lines.

Home video released by the family shows Richard Heene visibly upset as the balloon lifted into the air, its tethers not properly secured. Then, the family said, it learned it might have had precious cargo.

"I just saw him go under the flying saucer," Brad said. "I saw him go under it and the door shut."

Heene and law enforcement officials told reporters Thursday that Falcon had retreated to his hiding space after his father scolded him for fiddling with the experimental aircraft tethered in the family yard.

"I was in the attic, and he scared me because he yelled at me," Falcon told reporters. "That's why I went in the attic."

Richard Heene Said Aircraft Meant for Commuter Travel Someday

"I'm really sorry I yelled at him," Richard Heene said, standing with his wife and three sons. "He scared the heck out of us."

But some of Richard Heene's former colleagues have raised questions about his parenting and accused the amateur inventor of intentionally launching the balloon in an effort to gin up publicity.

"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."

Stevens told "GMA" he stopped working with Heene because he objected to Heene bringing his children along in dangerous situations.

"I just thought he was beginning to push [his children] into some things that were ethically on the edge," Stevens said. "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.

Heene, a former weatherman, said he built the 20-foot-long, dome-shaped aircraft for commuter travel.

"We were working on an experimental craft -- I call it the 3D LAV, a low-altitude vehicle for people to pull out of their garage and hover above traffic for about 50 to100 feet," Heene said later. "It's still the very early stages of the invention."

As millions of other people watched live video footage of the balloon on TV, many of them thinking Falcon was inside, the aircraft appeared to visibly deflate, spin and rock from side to side. When it landed near the Denver airport, sheriff's officials tethered it to the ground and cut it with sharp tools to deflate it.

But they reported no sign of the boy or a box that had been attached to the balloon.

Believing Falcon may have fallen out of the aircraft, investigators searched a miles-wide area looking for him.

Volunteers walked through the treeline near the family's home, calling out the boy's name.

"Falcon is a great kid, very adventurous, and has no fear factor," neighbor Tina Sanchez said. "For him to climb into this balloon would not be out of character."

ABC News' Michael James and Clayton Sandell contributed to this report.

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