It was a heart stopping moment that had news viewers on the edge of their seats as a Colorado boy was said to have been carried off in an experimental balloon built by the child’s father, the bother of the six year old being adamant he saw him climb into the balloon before it traveled miles away pushed by wind. Soon the boy was found hiding somewhere in the family attic and as police probe further the story gets more and more sketchy; allegedly this was an elaborate hoax concocted by the parents to get a reality TV show, one of the children admitting he did it to help with daddy’s show. The police are said to file charges ranging from conspiracy to child abuse and child protective services is reportedly looking into whether these people are fit to continue raising their children. While America buzzes, the police in Fort Collins call this a ten on the bizarre meter and media personalities are asking what have we come to when want for fame does this to us, other more astute individuals are asking a different set of questions. Whoopi Goldberg of The View bringing up that no one seemed to ask the question whether it was possible that the child could get in, never mind fall out of this balloon, highlighting that no one asked something as simple as how much does the child weigh in relation to the balloon, and also pointing out that these frantic parents called the police, 911 operators that should be trained enough to spot such things.
Even when the child did not appear to be in the balloon the media assumption was that the child had fallen out and thousands of dollars were expended in search efforts, some are clamoring that the family should have to repay. While police say they have e-mail correspondence and other documents taken from the family home detailing the hoax, more has come to light about the young boys father Richard Hene. Hene, a former actor, was featured with his family twice on the show Wife Swap, is a storm chaser who has made videos and taken his sons on such chasing trips, a friend has now come forward saying she is worried about the children because they once showed up at her home with the children not in car seats.
Home videos have been released to entertainment news outlets that are being called disturbing about not only what he is teaching his kids, but his magnetic pull toward children mentioned in a tone as if this man could be some kind of pervert. Another former family friend came forward saying that the outbursts of rage seen in Wife Swap airings was an every day occurrence, and a former employee of a magazine produced by Mr. Hene made claims that the family of five lived out of the office in filthy squalor. He also claims Mr. Hene accused him of calling child protective services then flew into a rage when he discovered the employee was quitting. What is interesting about all of the claims now coming to light about the father of three is the timing; it comes out now, even after two stents on the show Wife Swap there is no public knowledge of the parents being investigated by child services for their behavior, no mention of the children being taken away. Despite taking his children on storm chasing outings and the video shot there, again there is no public knowledge of them being turned in to child services; in contrast, there was the Alabama father who was turned in to child services after his spank happy, aggressive ways were displayed on the popular show Supper Nanny.
It is equally interesting that this family friend and former member of an acting class taken by Mr. Hene voices her concern now when the children are clearly beyond the age of needing car seats; it is also strange that she uses that example when coming to the entertainment news media rather than the Fort Collins police or child services. The youngest child now at the center of the balloon controversy was a baby when the incident with the employee allegedly took place; the same is true of the former friend detailing outbursts of rage, one involving Richard Hene shoving his wife. All of these people are coming out of the woodwork not to the police but to The Insider, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight; sounds like they are all looking for their own fifteen minutes of fame at this family’s expense. Reality TV is known for being staged, airing the most outrageous of footage all to satisfy ratings and viewer fascination; Wife Swap routinely puts together polar opposites that would almost never socialize let alone marry, in an attempt to create those explosive shouting matches seen. Plus anyone put under a microscope is likely to have some less than proud moments.
But perhaps the biggest issue is the possible three felonies these parents are facing all of which carry the potential of jail time and the fact that someone is seriously looking into taking these children away from their parents, all over a hoax? The police want to charge these parents with conspiracy, conspiracy to do what be stupid, conspiracy to do what, get famous? The punishment hardly fits the crime. From what we, the public, know it is the same with the child abuse charges; regardless of whether or not this was a hoax, the child was never in that balloon and never in any danger. Likewise with the storm chasing there has been no evidence brought to light that any of the Hene children were ever injured while with their father on one of these trips as a result of being put in a volatile situation. Also if the former employee’s allegations are true, it holds no baring on where the family lives now; many people make do with what the have and it is a testament to resilience as well as good parenting to go from such conditions to where they are now.
One of the charges that might be brought against these parents is contributing to the delinquency of a minor presumably for coercing the child into lying to police; however, if it is not a hoax, as the father still insists, that doesn’t hold water. Remember, the media, not the parents, broadcasted the idea that the child fell out of the balloon as video was shot of it being violently tossed by wind; the e-mails and documents found in the home may have been something the Hene’s planned to act out and video tape in their front yard with the help of friends in a bid to get on TV. The children may have found this got it in their heads to help and thus the hoax was born; it also provides an alternate explanation to the child’s comment of helping daddy with his show and why the older brother was so insistent he had seen his bother in the balloon before it was airborne. At the same time, why are the police so sure it was a hoax and not a horrible misunderstanding; could the older boy have honestly thought his brother was in the balloon because that is the last place he had seen him before the balloon took off?
Both legal and child experts doubt that the parents will see jail time or that the children will be removed but that it is most likely the parents will have to pay back all, or a significant portion, of the money for the search if it is deemed a hoax and are likely to have to complete parenting classes. Yet all of it seems to beg the question when did Fort Collins become Mayberry; when did the police become so devoid of something to do that they want to excessively charge parents for something that still remains to be proven was their fault, instead of thanking god, the universe or whatever they believe in that the child is safe and sound like most rescuers would be doing. In addition, why charge these parents with felonies when there are misdemeanor charges at their disposal, particularly when the police could have saved themselves some money by looking at the news video feeds and realizing this balloon had no basket attached for the child to fall out of, realizing that there really was no place for the child to crawl into the balloon and that it was too light to carry a child that size that far into the air, then searching the home and known places the child goes to see if he ran, or wandered off. Further if these parents are unfit, if the police are correct and this is the most bizarre thing seen, it is a predicable assumption there could be some mental illness occurring with one or both of these parents, and the best course of action for that is charge them with felonies and put them behind bars, apparently that’s the thinking in this Colorado town. And for entertainment news outlets to be taking home videos and using them to somehow paint a man who has a family, is good with kids as a possible pervert is not only premature its reprehensible. Again there has been no mention of any suspected history of sexual abuse of Mr. Hene’s children, or any child, by Mr. Hene.
All in all it seems as if Fort Collins needs to get a better definition of child abuse; child abuse is kids having their hands shoved in boiling water, burn marks on their body from cigarettes irons or other objects. Child abuse is being beaten with extension cords and hung suspended from them in a closet, being tied to a radiator, having parents or caregivers try to cut off genitalia, toddlers tied up and beaten to death, starved, bones broken. Child abuse is bruises, fear, excessive yelling, verbal and emotional abuse. Child abuse is molestation, rape, incest, the newborn raped and beaten by her own father; child abuse is tying a toddler up in a crude sort of harness as a means of containment. Child abuse is not making sure your child has enough food, shelter, clothing, not taking them to doctors or hospitals when needed, not making sure they are in school or being home schooled, not providing school supplies, not doing your best to make sure the child doesn’t break the law. None of that to be confused with exocentric parenting, what some might call the environment in the Hene home, not to be confused with a parent trying to share a passion with his sons.
People have compared the sheriff in Fort Collins to Barney Fife, an accurate description by all accounts for someone who is crying hoax causing a media blitz that is putting a family in turmoil as the outlandish charges have forced these people to plead their case on morning shows where the six year old boy reportedly vomited twice. At the same time if it was a hoax, the sheriff has played right into what these people wanted rather than charging them with misdemeanors, giving them a clear message this is not ok, making them pay back an acceptable portion of the money if found guilty then going back to work. The sheriff is chafing at the thousands spent on the search, yet is spending even more money decided on how to prosecute these, at most, stupid parents. Worst of all while everyone across the country including people in this Colorado town are debating was it or was it not a hoax, there are real things affecting the country and the people there. Fort Collins has the highest child poverty rate in the nation, has 22,000 homeless children and just voted to reduce its minimum wage; they have better things to do than debate balloon boy, as he is now called.