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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Richard Heene and his family have never been afraid of the spotlight as they made a name for themselves chasing down storms, starring in a reality TV show and experimenting with a series of unusual inventions including hovercraft, a weather-gathering flying saucer and a rocket launcher.

They found themselves at the center of yet another strange saga Thursday when 6-year-old Falcon Heene vanished around the time that a homemade helium balloon floated away from their home, setting off a national panic as authorities scoured the plains of northern Colorado for the youngster. As it turns out, he was hiding in the rafters of the family’s garage the whole time.

The disappearance and sudden discovery of the boy have raised questions about whether it was all an elaborate attention-getting stunt orchestrated by the Heenes or simply a bizarre case of a child who ran away and hid after getting spooked by a scolding from his father.

Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said authorities do not believe at this point if it was a hoax but he would meet with investigators Friday to decide whether to look into the matter further. Asked during an impromptu news conference outside his house whether the incident was a stunt, Richard Heene said: “That’s horrible. After the crap we just went through. No. No, no, no.”