Nightly News   |  October 18, 2009

Balloon bursts as sheriff calls saga a ‘hoax’

Oct. 18: Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden tells reporters that the ordeal was staged to generate publicity for a reality TV show and that the parents could face multiple charges. NBC’s Lee Cowan reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. we were duped. that's the essence of what the sheriff investigating thursday's colorado balloon drama said today as he announced the whole thing appears to have an elaborate hoax. felony charges are expected soon against richard henne and their wife who claim they are 6-year-old son was carried a loft in a balloon. their bow gus 911 call set into motion a massive search and rescue effort not to mention leaving millions watching in horror as it played out on tv. lee cowan is here with more. hello, lee.

>> reporter: good evening. toward the end he actually pretended to believe this fantastic story, but in order to do that convincingly, he said, he had to create a hoax of his own. this was the bait. what was left of richard henne's infamous flying saucer . the self-described amateur scientist was told if he came to the sheriff's office he could have it back, and on saturday he showed up right on time. but when he left, some six hours later, his demeanor had changed dramatically. he had been duped.

>> it has been determined that this is a hoax. that it was a publicity stunt.

>> reporter: the sheriff said he lured him into the sheriff's department by pretending to believe his fantastic story about his boy being stuck in a balloon. but then, despite his repeated denial, he threatened to throw the book at him, including three possible felony charges that could land him and his wife behind bars.

>> on the bizarre meter this rates a 10.

>> reporter: he didn't always believe they were making it up. at first --

>> they put on a very good show for us, and we bought it.

>> reporter: then there was the 6-year-old who seemed to slip up on cnn by hinting that the whole thing was part of a show.

>> we are sure he's in there that.

>> yeah, we looked everywhere.

>> reporter: the parents called the news media before dialing 911 didn't sit well either. finally there was the whole matter of the balloon itself. they say it wasn't big enough to carry a 37 pound dmiltd first place.

>> in colorado it's time for another family science experiment.

>> reporter: it was the parnt desire to continue their reality show that drew the sheriff's attention.

>> let's call it short of speculation that a media outlet was in on the hoax. let's not discount that possibility.

>> reporter: he says at least one production company had been talking to the hennes about appearing in a third reality show , but what was missing was a spark to get the ball rolling. investigators believe that's when he decided to use all means necessary, even his children, to get himself back on tv.

>> the information that we have at this point is that they were 100% involved.

>> reporter: the hennes are still free tonight with only one public comment so far from richard himself, who for the first time didn't deny it was all a hoax, but said the whole story is convoluted. now, the family does have an attorney now, lester, and he insisting that the family is, in fact, innocent. but if it's requested they turn themselves in, they will. lester.

>> thank you.

>>> it's another big week in