By now, you’ve probably all heard the harrowing tale of “Balloon Boy”, 6-year-old Falcon Heene of Colorado. Earlier this week, Richard and Mayumi Heene reported that their son had probably accidentally drifted away in the basket of an enormous helium balloon, shaped like a flying saucer, that Richard had constructed. Such contraptions are common in the Heene household: The Heenes are stormchasers, and Richard calls himself The Science Detective.
The balloon was tracked by helicopter, but proved to be empty. Falcon was actually hiding out in the attic of his family home. When interviewed with his family on CNN Thursday, the boy candidly said he remained hidden even when he heard people searching the house for him because, “You [Richard] told me we were doing it for a show.”
The Heene family has appeared twice on the TV reality show Wife Swap, and they’re anything but bashful. Mayumi is outgoing, bursting with energy, and almost insanely cheery. And Richard… well, there’s no way to be polite about this. Richard is a Grade A a-hole. He’s demanding, abusive, erratic, and just plain rude. Clips of his Wife Swap appearances show him screaming, “You’re lazy!” at stand-in “wife” Sheree Silver, flinging a full carton of milk at her, and ranting about her ineptitude as a science partner. When Mrs. Silver phoned Mayumi to learn some coping strategies, Mrs. Heene admitted that Richard usually behaves the same way towards her.
Silver has been quoted as saying that she doesn’t consider Richard Heene capable of using his son in a publicity stunt, though he is “eccentric”.
Others aren’t so kind. Though Laramer County Sheriff Jim Alderden says local authorities still believe the family was genuinely concerned about Falcon, an adjacent county is considering charging the Heenes for the cost of the search and rescue effort.
I don’t know if this incident was a publicity stunt or not, but either way it’s a messed-up story. Leaving huge UFO-shaped helium balloons lying around where your children can board them is not smart, nor is taking your three kids stormchasing with you (as the Heenes admittedly do).
I’m guessing this was a stunt. The Heenes seem desperate for attention, and apparently don’t care how they get it.
Richard Heene has responded angrily to accusations of hoaxery.
Oct. 18th Update: It’s a hoax, Sheriff Alderden announced at today’s press conference.
– “Police want to interview ‘balloon boy’ family” by Jorge Barrera. Ottawa Citizen. October 16/09