US police searched the home of the parents of Colorado's "balloon boy" yesteday after the sheriff said he was pursuing criminal charges. The world thought Falcon Heene, 6, was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon launched from his father's back garden in Fort Collins, Colorado.
But Falcon was in fact hiding in the rafters of his parents' garage while Thursday's frantic search for him was shown live on TV.
The Sheriff said they were looking for computers, emails, phone records and financial records.
The boy's parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, were talking to sheriff's officials for much of Saturday night after speculation mounted that the incident was a massive publicity stunt orchestrated by storm chaser and would-be reality TV star Mr Heene.
Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden did not say who would be charged or what the charges would be, but he said the parents spoke to investigators voluntarily and were not under arrest.
Sheriff Alderden previously said that if the balloon ordeal was a hoax, the parents could be charged with making a false report to authorities, a low-level misdemeanour.
"We were looking at Class 3 misdemeanour, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances," Sheriff Alderden said yesterday.
"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."
The Heenes were expected to speak to reporters outside their home yesterday, after a strange day that began with Richard Heene knocking on the windows of journalists camped outside his home and promising a "big announcement".
A few hours later, he did an about-face when he told reporters that they should leave questions in a cardboard box on the front doorstep.
Falcon: We did it for the show
As he walked away, a reporter shouted: "Can you tell us once and for all if this is a hoax?"
"Absolutely no hoax. I want your questions in the box," Mr Heene said, waving a cardboard container before going back into his home.
A circus-like atmosphere formed outside, including men holding signs and occasionally yelling "Balloon boy". One sign read, "Put balloon boy on TV: America's Most Wanted".
Others carried foil stove-top popcorn makers that resembled the silvery balloon launched from the family's back garden, with Falcon believed to be on board.
While their parents were at the sheriff's office, the couple's three sons remained home, apparently being watched by sheriff's officials.
Sheriff Alderden had said that he wanted to reinterview the family after Falcon told CNN that "you said we did this for a show", when asked why he did not come out of his hiding place.
Father: I'm appalled
Then Falcon was sick during two separate TV interviews when asked why he hid.
The balloon was supposed to be tethered to the ground when it lifted off, and no one was supposed to be aboard. A video of the launch shows the family counting down in unison, "3, 2, 1", before Richard Heene pulls a cord, setting the balloon into the air.
"Whoa!" one of the boys exclaims. Then his father says in disbelief: "Oh, my God!" He then says to someone: "You didn't put the (expletive) tether down!" and he kicks the wood frame that had held the balloon.
Falcon's brother said he saw him inside the compartment before it took off and that was why they thought he was in there when it launched. Mr Heene said he had shouted at Falcon before the launch for getting inside.
Sheriff Alderden said earlier that he thought Falcon ran off because he was scared of getting in trouble, later falling asleep in his hiding place.
He said he doubted that such a hyperactive boy could be ordered to stay quiet for the five hours he was missing.
"Clearly we were manipulated by the family and the media was manipulated," the Sheriff said. Questions might be raised whether any media outlets knew in advance of the hoax, he added.
In addition to the charges the Sheriff anticipated expected to file, he would be meeting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and with federal aviation officials to see whether any further federal charges might be considered in the case, he said. All charges are likely to be filed against both parents.
Mr Heene and his wife were questioned separately by police on Saturday. Alderden said that plans were also made after the incident to conduct a polygraph test on the boy's father. He could not say if the test had happened or what the results were.
Alderden also said authorities are concerned about the safety of the three children. Authorities spoke with Mayumi Heene "at length about domestic violence" and the children's safety, Alderden said. "But we didn't have enough that would allow us or Child Protection Services to physically take the kids from that environment."
A 911 call was made from the home earlier this year that led authorities to a "suspicious circumstance" that Alderden said may have involved "domestic violence, perhaps against the wife."
Over the years, Richard Heene has worked as a storm chaser, a handyman and contractor, and an aspiring reality TV star.
He and his family appeared on the US version of Wife Swap and the show's producer said it had a show in development with the Heenes but the deal was now off.
TLC also said Mr Heene had pitched a reality show to the network months ago, but it passed on the offer.
Mr Heene is the host of a show called The Psyience Detectives which invesigates paranormal activity.
Mr and Mrs Heene also starred in Box Time Playhouse and are briefly mentioned in the book 'Acting is Everything' by Judy Kerr.
Despite his attempts to get on TV, Mr Heene insisted yesterday that he did not know what kinds of questions were being asked about him because he did not have cable TV.