The sheriff of Larimer County, Colo., says that right now, he doesn't believe Falcon Heene was involved in any hoax.
The 6-year-old boy turned out to be hiding in his family's attic when a homemade helium balloon in their backyard somehow sprang loose, floated 50 miles through the skies, and set off a chase that dominated live news coverage for almost three hours.
One of Falcon Heene's brothers told his parents that Falcon was in the balloon when it broke its tether. Helicopters and rescue vehicles gave chase while millions held their breath because they thought a 6-year-old boy might be sailing through the skies, cold, frightened and just a gust of wind from falling.
Falcon Heene told reporters he had sneaked up to the attic to hide after his father snapped at him for sitting in the balloon as he worked on it. Richard Heene, his father, is a storm chaser, tinkerer and, people have suggested, a publicity hound who likes to be on television.
The sheriff says that authorities will meet with the Heene family today, to try to resolve any doubts about their story.
I suppose I should point out, as many listeners who write me have, how many truly important stories could have been covered in those three hours the news chased what turned out to be an empty balloon. There are so many huge stories that earn little attention: the persisting war in eastern Congo that has killed more than 5 million people; the continued slavery and abuse of millions of children in Eastern Europe and Asia; and even roadway deaths in the U.S., that kill almost as many people as cancer. But stories like that don't just pop in front of you like a rogue balloon.
Off and on for three hours on Thursday, I watched a silvery balloon streak through the skies and worried that a young boy might be aboard. I wondered both how frightened a little boy might be, and how totally cool — and I'll bet that's the word he'd use — it would be to hover above the trees, roads and mountains on a faultlessly beautiful fall afternoon. My daughters and I tell each other stories in which we circle Chicago's skyscrapers or the Eiffel Tower on a witch's broom, waving at our friends and touching the stars.
Whatever happened, I'm glad Falcon Heene is safe. And the three hours a lot of people spent caring about him strike me as time well-spent.