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Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Friday, 16 October 2009 20:23 UK

US balloon boy case 'not a hoax'

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Sheriff Jim Alderden: "That the boy had been coaxed to hide in this attic... is inconceivable"

A Colorado sheriff has said there is no indication that the family of a boy thought to have been carried away by a helium balloon was carrying out a hoax.

The disappearance of Falcon Heene, six, became a media drama that gripped the nation. He was later found at home.

Suspicions were aroused when the child, when asked on TV why he had stayed hidden, said "we did this for a show".

Sheriff Jim Alderden said the family would be re-interviewed but he had no reason to think they were lying.

Speaking in Fort Collins, Colorado, Mr Alderden said the suggestion that the child - who he said was very hyperactive - had been coached into hiding for several hours was inconceivable.

HEENE FAMILY
Father Richard, wife Mayumi, three sons - Brad, Ryo, Falcon
Family appeared on reality TV show Wife Swap, described as science-obsessed
Father is an amateur scientist and keen "storm chaser"
Home videos posted on YouTube, including three sons performing rap song

He said he believed the boy thought he was responsible for the balloon becoming untethered and had hidden because he was afraid he was in trouble.

"We believe at this time that it was a real event," he said. "Certainly people are free to speculate."

If it did turn out to be a hoax, he added, Larimer County sheriff's office would "seek restitution by whatever means we have available".

The Heene family would be questioned again in a day or two by officers, he said, after they had had the chance to rest.

Wife Swap

The boy, his two brothers and his parents gave numerous TV interviews late on Thursday and early Friday.

His father, Richard Heene, insisted that his son's disappearance was not staged.

He and his wife Mayumi have previously appeared on the reality TV show Wife Swap, leading to speculation in the media that the latest incident might have been a publicity stunt.

US news networks devoted hours of live coverage to the drama on Thursday after it was reported the boy might be in a balloon floating high over Colorado.

When the aircraft landed in fields there was no trace of him, prompting a major ground search and further fears for his safety.

It was finally announced that the boy had been found alive and well in the roof-space of the garage at his family's home.

Boy 'confused'

The news that Falcon had been found delighted both the Heenes and the TV networks.

I'm starting to get a little ticked off. What have I got to gain out of this?
Richard Heene
Father of 'balloon boy' Falcon Heene

However, questions over the family's motivation later emerged during a CNN interview.

Mr Heene was asked by an interviewer to ask his son why he had not emerged from his hiding place when he heard his parents calling out his name.

Speaking hesitantly at first, Falcon answered: "You had said that we did this for a show."

In spite of quick denials from his father, speculation that the Heenes had faked the entire incident persisted into Friday, when the family appeared on more US TV talk shows.

And in a bizarre twist, Falcon himself became physically ill while his father was asked direct questions on ABC and NBC about whether or not they had staged an elaborate hoax.

Mr Heene battled on while his son was being sick, telling his NBC interviewer there was "absolutely" no hoax.

Heene family address reporters outside their home

"Now I'm starting to get a little ticked off," he said. Insisting that he had nothing to sell and no motivation to force his son into the limelight, he asked: "What have I got to gain out of this?"

Pressed on what his son might have meant, Mr Heene struggled for an answer on CNN on Thursday night, saying that his son must have been confused by the family's previous appearance on Wife Swap.

In a later segment of the interview Mr Heene avoided a request to ask Falcon once again what he meant by his comment, and instead rounded on his questioner.

"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," he said.



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SEE ALSO
Balloon boy father denies TV fake
16 Oct 09 |  Americas
'Balloon boy' found safe at home
16 Oct 09 |  Americas


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