Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hoax: 'Balloon Boy' Falcon Heene's Okay; His Parents, Not So Much

A news conference about an hour and a half ago added details to what we've been hearing for several hours. The story that had helicopters and ground vehicles chasing a balloon for 50 miles was, according to authorities, a hoax.

Mobilizing a land/air rescue effort as a publicity stunt isn't just wrong: It's stupid. Really, really stupid. I doubt that whatever Falcon Heene's parents make from this hoax will make up for the legal fees, lost productivity, and other consequences they'll probably be facing.

Sheriff Got Evidence First - Then Charged Couple

" 'Balloon boy' incident was hoax, sheriff says"
CNN (October 18, 2009)

"...It was carried out by a couple who met in acting school in Hollywood and put on a very good show for us, Sheriff Jim Alderden of Larimer County said Sunday. Authorities know there was a conspiracy between Richard and Mayumi Heene, he said.

" 'It has been determined that this is a hoax,' the sheriff said, adding police 'believe we have evidence at this point that it was a publicity stunt' by the family in hopes of 'better marketing themselves for a reality show at some point in the future.'

"The dramatic announcement included an admission by Alderden that authorities misled the media on Friday when they said they still believed it was not a hoax...."

I'm not sure how the AP took that deception. Considering the traditional news service's view of itself, that sort of thing could be seen as threatening all journalism. (October 17, 2009)

Or, an effort by law enforcement to bring guilty parties to justice.

I'm not sure that the authorities actually lied. Misled, yes. Lied? I'd have to see a video - and study a transcript - of statements made.

Take "Alderden initially said there was no reason to believe the incident was a hoax," for example. English is a wonderful language, with a huge vocabulary of words that carry many shades of meaning.

One of the definitions for "reason," for example, is "a fact that logically justifies some premise or conclusion." (Princeton's WordNet) "Believe" often means, "accept as true; take to be true," or "be confident about something." (Princeton's WordNet) Since that statement seems to have been made before a search warrant was executed, by guess is that Alderden didn't have a fact that logically justified the conclusion that a hoax had been committed: and therefore couldn't reasonably accept the hoax scenario as true.

The idea that the Heenes had perpetrated a hoax was plausible, yes. Worth investigating, yes. Known to be true - not at that time.

This announcement is no surprise: the news has been out for hours.

"Balloon Boy" Okay: Somebody's Going to be Facing Charges

"Officials Search Balloon Family's Home, Plan Charges"
FOXNews (October 18, 2009)

"Deputies searched the home of a couple caught up in Colorado's 'balloon boy' saga after the sheriff said he was pursuing criminal charges in a case that at first sparked fear for the child, then relief he was okay, to suspicions of a hoax.

"The boy's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, met with Larimer County investigators for much of Saturday afternoon amid lingering questions about whether he perpetrated a publicity stunt when his 6-year-old son Falcon vanished into the rafters of his garage while the world thought he was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon.

"But Sheriff Jim Alderden didn't say who would be charged or what the charges would be....

"...Alderden didn't call Thursday's hours-long drama a hoax, but he expressed disappointment that he couldn't level more serious charges in the incident...."

"...'We were looking at Class 3 misdemeanor, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances,' Alderden said. 'We are talking to the district attorney, federal officials to see if perhaps there aren't additional federal charges that are appropriate in this circumstance.'..."

Rush to Judgement's Fun, But Hasty

The "balloon boy" story is international news, and fodder for bloggers - including me. Even before the Heene balloon touched down, I heard a reporter say, "where are his parents?!"

One of the first responses I've learned to expect, when a child is in a hazardous situation, is that "where are his/her parents?!" Naturally enough: parents are responsible for their children - or should be - and it seems easy to assume that parents are at fault if Johnny or Janey get in trouble.

There's something to that, but six-year-olds are mobile, smart, and haven't had time to build up the life experience we sometimes call wisdom.
He Called the TELEVISION STATION?! The Monster!
This headline got my attention: "Balloon boy: Falcon Heene's father called TV station before police" - which seems a heartless, self-serving thing to do. (, October 17, 2009)

I'll grant that Richard Heene seems to be a bit of a publicity hound. In his line of work, he just about has to: You don't make money as a storm chaser (among other things) by sitting in your living room and hoping that the national networks will come knocking at your door.

But, calling a television station before calling the police? That sounds cold.

Or, smart.

Quite a few television stations have helicopters, and are equipped to respond quickly in situations like this. Police forces in America, for important historical and cultural reasons, have procedures they have to follow: which can take time to run their course.1
Parents Aren't Always Guilty
The parents of Elizabeth Smart liked to enter their little girl in beauty contests, and seemed to be going out of their way to respond in unusual ways to Elizabeth's kidnapping in 2002. It was "obvious," from some points of view, that they had something to do with her disappearance. I mean to say: what sort of parents would hire a publicist when their child was kidnapped?

The Smart kidnapping was in the yesterday's news. As we found out in 2003, Elizabeth was kidnapped. And, apparently, treated rather badly. By a fellow who, as The Associated Press paraphrased her statements, "used religion as a ruse to get what he wanted, but never appeared to be spiritual or close to God." His wife is the person featured in the news: she may be sane enough to stand trial. (AP)

BBC Video

"Charges over 'balloon boy' incident"
BBC (October 18, 2009)
video, 2:08

"Police in Colorado say criminal charges will be brought in connection with the helium balloon which was wrongly thought to have taken off with a six-year-old boy trapped inside...."

Contradictory Accounts? Not So Much

By now, someone following this story will have heard that Falcon Heene was hiding in a cardboard box, the family's garage, and "in the attic of his house," as this BBC video puts it.

Apparently, all three versions can be accurate. One phrase, "...Falcon vanished into the rafters of his garage..." in this BBC video seems to clear up the apparently contradictory accounts.

Quite a number of American residential garages - including ours - have peaked roofs, with no interior ceiling, apart from the underside of the roof. Attached garages are pretty common, too, which makes the garage a part of the house. We often use wood construction techniques that include rafters, horizontal structural members spaced about 18 inches or a half-meter apart.

My family's got a sheet of plywood over some of the rafters in our garage, and use the space for storage. In large cardboard boxes. It's a fairly common custom.

This BBC video does a pretty good job of summarizing what's been happening, what's known - and what's not, at the time it was made.

Falcon Heene Will Have a Tough Row to Hoe

The most serious offense that the Heenes seem to have committed, I think, is what they've done to their children.

I've read in the news that they have three kids, including Falcon. The young Heenes now have the near-certain knowledge that their parents lied - big time - for personal profit.

I'd be surprised if some people don't take out their feelings of betrayal and frustration on the kids. Search your memory for what elementary school was like, and I think you'll get an idea of what Falcon, in particular, has to look forward to.

Hate the Heenes? Not an Option for Me

Tempting as it is, I can't let myself brew a storm of (self-)righteous indignation, and rain contempt on the Heenes. I think that what they're accused of (with reason, it seems) was a gross misuse of trust, that they cost taxpayers in several counties - at least - a great deal of money and endangered the lives of rescue workers, and have hurt their children.

I also think that all that is very wrong.

But I'm not allowed to hate them.

More on that general topic in another blog: Related post:
1Quite a few years ago, my wife and I couldn't find one of our children. We'd searched the house, the yard, and the shed - and hadn't found her. Worried? You bet. Aside from the possibility that she'd have an up-close-and-personal encounter with a car or truck, this was after the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping. We were acutely aware that we might have hours - minutes - to find our child before she vanished permanently.

While my wife was out, combing the neighborhood, I called the police.

That was a mistake.

Since I couldn't bring the child's mother to the phone, the police could do nothing, apart from collecting statements from me. You see, there are people with children who have called the police with a 'missing child' story in an attempt to 'sic the cops' on their significant other.


We found her, later, in a cozy little recess she'd found - fast asleep. Which is why she hadn't responded to our voices. She was a sound sleeper at that point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Smart's parents never entered her in beauty contests. You're thinking of JonBenet Ramsey's parents. & the Smart's didn't hire a publicist, Ed Smart's brother Tom is a newspaper reporter. They did hire someone to help them write their book after Elizabeth came home, & that was because they got so many book & movie offers that they felt if they didn't publish something, someone else would.

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory