The parents behind the infamous ‘Balloon Boy’ hoax have been granted clemency by the governor of Colorado, more than 11 years after they captivated the attention of the nation when they falsely claimed their six-year-old son had floated away in a UFO-shaped silver helium balloon.
Richard and Mayumi Heene were pardoned by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday along with 16 other people whose convictions included drug offenses and lower-level crimes such as harassment and burglary.
The Heene family gained notoriety on October 15, 2009, after claiming their son Falcon was trapped inside a homemade helium weather balloon which had flown away from the front yard of their Fort Collins home.
The world watched on with bated breath for two nail-biting hours as the balloon purported to be carrying Falcon drifted up to heights of 7,000 feet across the skies of Colorado.
The balloon eventually landed 50 miles away in a Weld County field, but there was no sign of Falcon inside.
Hours after a frantic search – which grounded planes and involved a National Guard helicopter – Falcon was found unharmed hiding in the attic of the fame-seeking family’s home where he had been the whole time.
Richard and Mayumi Heene were later charged with conspiracy to commit crimes and sentenced to prison time for what authorities declared was a hoax.
Richard and Mayumi Heene (pictured in court in 2009) were pardoned by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday along with 18 other people
The Heene family gained notoriety on October 15, 2009, after claiming their son Falcon was trapped inside a homemade helium weather balloon which had flown away from the front yard of their Fort Collins home
Falcon (shown above with Richard Heene) was found unharmed hiding in the attic of the fame-seeking family’s home where he had been the whole time
However, on Wednesday Gov. Polis said he believed the couple had suffered enough since orchestrating the elaborate stunt and should no longer have to be dragged down by a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
‘In the case of Richard and Mayumi Heene, the ‘Balloon Boy’ parents, we are all ready to move past the spectacle from a decade ago that wasted the precious time and resources of law enforcement officials and the general public,’ Polis said in a statement.
‘Richard and Mayumi have paid the price in the eyes of the public, served their sentences, and it’s time for all of us to move on.’
In announcing their clemency, Polis also authored letters to Richard and Mayumi Heene directly.
In his letter to Mayumi, Polis said the mother-of-three had written to him to express her regret over the entire ordeal, and said she was still troubled by the harm or inconvenience her actions may have caused to anyone.
‘I believe you and trust that the legal and social consequences you have suffered in the intervening years will prevent you from ever repeating your past mistakes,’ Polis wrote.
In Richard Heene’s letter, Polis wrote: ‘You wrote to me that you have taught your three children to be honest and hardworking, and you have been diligently passing on your construction trade to your sons.’
The governor concluded that he believes Richard had also suffered enough legal consequences to prevent him from ‘repeating his past mistakes’.
Richard Heene, his wife Mayumi and their sons Bradford, Falcon and Ryo are pictured here with a homemade helium balloon in a promotional photo for the show Wife Swap
A law enforcement officer is seen running toward a home-built helium filled balloon as it lands in a Weld County field
Falcon Heene is seen left on October 15, shortly after emerging from the Family’s attic. He spoke about the incident in an interview with GMA last year, where he is pictured in the right image
Richard Heene served a month in jail after pleading guilty to a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, and Mayumi Heene was jailed for 20 days for filing a false report. They were also ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution.
Last year, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the incident, the couple maintained it wasn’t a hoax because they truly feared their son could have been aboard the balloon when they called for help.
The couple said they only admitted guilt to stop immigration services from investigating the family and potentially revoking Mayumi’s residency. She is a Japanese immigrant.
However, a report by 5820.com weeks earlier revealed that Mayumi had kept at least 12 pages of handwritten notes detailing a day-by-day lead up to the incident, for which she later gave to her attorney to ‘save herself’ from prosecution, without her husband knowing.
At the time of the incident, the family’s pitch for a science-based reality show had been rejected.
Mayumi told investigators that her husband wanted attention for the show and believed a runaway balloon with a child inside could be just the thing.
In their initial calls to 911 on October 15, 2009, the couple claimed the balloon – which Richard had been building – had accidentally taken off from their back yard, with Falcon inside.
They said they had been testing the balloon, which they claimed was tethered down, before Falcon crawled inside and the balloon was swept away by a strong gust of wind.
Last year, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the incident, the couple maintained it wasn’t a hoax because they truly feared their son could have been aboard the balloon when they called for help. Falcon is pictured right in the family’s attic
Richard Heene served a month in jail after pleading guilty to a felony count of attempting to influence a public servant, and Mayumi Heene was jailed for 20 days for filing a false report. They were also ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution
The couple (pictured in 2019) said they only admitted guilt to stop immigration services from investigating the family and potentially revoking Mayumi’s residency. She is a Japanese immigrant.
Richard and Mayumi’s sons, Bradford, Ryo and Falcon, started a heavy metal band called the Heene Boyz (pictured)
A frantic 90 minute saga would ensue, captivating millions who were watching live news coverage showing the balloon drifting across Colorado.
Authorities even pondered whether to shoot down the 20-foot-long and five-foot-wide craft but eventually it landed safely in a field 50 miles away from the family’s home.
Rescuers frantically rushed to it to get Falcon out. Planes had been grounded beforehand to limit the chance of him getting hurt.
However, after opening the balloon, authorities found no trace of Falcon inside. After one officer said he thought he had seen something fall from the craft, fears intensified that the young boy may have died.
Police desperately searched areas below the balloon’s flight path, but still not sign of the boy was found.
The six-year-old eventually – and miraculously – emerged from the family’s attic, claiming he’d been hiding in a box.
While authorities were initially relieved that he was safe, their relief soon turned to suspicion when a friend of the family claimed they had helped Richard and Mayumi plot the hoax as a stunt for a reality television show.
The accusation was further compounded when, during a live interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Falcon said, ‘We did it for the TV show’ when asked why he was hiding in the attic.
A friend of the family claimed they had helped plot the hoax as a stunt for a reality television show
The accusation was further compounded when, during a live interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Falcon said, ‘We did it for the TV show’ when asked why he was hiding in the attic
Richard Heene (L) reacts as he holds his son six-year-old Falcon Heene outside their house in Fort Collins, Colorado October 15, 2009
The recovery of Mayumi’s diary would also later provide an interesting twist in the case.
On the first page of Mayumi’s diary, dated for April 27, 2009, she talked about a production company rejecting the pitch.
‘What could we do to help them?’ Mayumi wrote. ‘They wouldn’t put up money, but we can do our own project…. Then they can make a “one-off” out of it,’ she added, according to 5280.com.
On September 30, Mayumi wrote: ‘Richard redesigned flying saucer many times. He started 30 feet. He called around to see if it’s feedable [sic], but he found it away [sic] expensive. Also he found it wouldn’t fit in our back yard.’
Between October 1 and 2nd Mayumi penned that her husband made a shopping list and they recorded the intro to the project with their children.
October 3, she wrote: ‘We started building a flying saucer and shooting the process inside of the house because it was snowing.’
According to 5280.com, on one of the notes, Mayumi said they have video of Falcon saying: ‘I want to get inside of it.’
In a note dated for October 14, Mayumi claims that Richard ‘asked me to remember about the story of “Lawnchair Larry,” then Richard mentioned what if Falcon hid for ½ hours later and landed, then mention in [news]paper, Fort Collins…. Falcon can hide in the closet with a safe in the basement’.
On October 15, the day of the incident, Mayumi wrote that she didn’t believe they were going to launch the flying saucer because of the ‘strong wind’.
‘Because of the wind, it might crash on somebody, cars or anything…. Richard said we would do the third test and quit. That’s why I thought he was acting so strange. After the flying saucer went off, he went so hysterical. Because he started so hysterical, I started taking it seriously. After it was launched, we did not know whether Falcon was in the flying saucer or in the house or anywhere,’ she wrote.
Three days later on October 18, Mayumi said she ‘found out when we visited our attorney’s [sic] that Richard revealed he came down to the basement to look for Falcon, but he wasn’t there.
‘Richard thought really Falcon would be in the flying saucer.’
But once the diary was discovered and presented to the couple, Mayumi denied that it was true.
‘I made the whole story up,’ she told the site.
‘What?’ Richard asked before Mayumi explained that she wrote it.
‘What do you mean you wrote this?’ Richard said, according to 5280.com. ‘What the f**k are you talking about? You said you didn’t know what this was. Why would you write this?’
Mayumi answered: ‘To save myself, because of our kids.’
BALLOON BOY: HOW THE DRAMA UNFOLDED
15 October, 2009:
News emerges that a six-year-old boy had floated away in an experimental helium-filled weather balloon. Richard Heene, the boy’s father, had been working on the craft at his home in Fort Collins, Colorado – which was to fly at low altitudes – when it became untethered and drifted off.
Another of Richard Heene’s sons said he thought he had seen his brother Falcon climb into the balloon just moments before sparking fears that the little boy was floating across the Colorado skies at heights of up to 7,000 feet.
Falcon’s mother Mayumi makes a frantic 911 call reporting the disappearance and rescuers scramble to find the disc-shaped craft.
Around 90 minutes later, the balloon lands in a field and the boy is nowhere to be found. Initially, this led to authorities fearing the worst – that the boy had fallen out along the journey – but it later emerged that the boy had been hiding in his parents house all along. He was in a box in the attic.
Falcon told reporters outside the house at the time: ‘I played with my toys and took a nap’.
Hugging the boy, Richard Heene added: ‘He says it’s because I yelled at him. I’m sorry I yelled at him.’
15 October, 2009:
Richard Heene is interviewed by Wolf Blitzer for CNN’s Larry King Live show. Falcon is asked why he hid in the attic and he responds: ‘You guys said we did this for the show.’
After interviewer Wolf Blitzer presses him further about the comment, Richard Heene becomes uncomfortable and complains about the ‘appalling’ questions. He then says his son was referring to the media coverage following the incident.
911 recordings are released where little Falcon Heene’s mother Mayumi can be heard pleading with telephone operators to find someone to ‘get my son’ after he drifted away on a ‘flying saucer’. It emerges later that she is referring to a silver disc-shaped weather balloon.
Richard Heene, who is frantic, then comes on the phone and explains: ‘We had it tethered. It wasn’t supposed to take off. We are testing it. I don’t know if you can track the electricity it produces. Every five minutes it comes on for one minute. It emits one million volts to the outer skin.’
20 October, 2009:
Richard and Mayumi Heene take a lie detector test but the results are never published.
Robert Thomas, who worked with the family, said they were convinced the world was going to end in 2012 and wanted to build an underground bunker to protect themselves when the sun exploded.
Thomas also said the Heene family were ‘obsessed’ with trying to make a reality television show and he had planned the hoax with them as a media stunt. He added that although he knew about a hot air balloon, he did not realize they would use their children. He did not face charges.
Parents of Falcon Heene plead guilty to a charge of wasting police time in a court in Denver, Colorado, after a deal with prosecutors to avoid jail and possible deportation.
Richard Heene, 48 at the time, is sentences to 90 days in prison, including 60 days on ‘work release’ at Larimer County District Court after admitting to carrying out the stunt to promote a reality television show. His wife Mayumi, who was 45, is sentenced to 20 days in jail to begin after her husband’s stint.
The couple were ordered to pay $42,000 in restitution for the emergency services’ rescue efforts. This included $8,500 for damage to the field the craft landed in.
Richard Heene told the court: ‘I do want to reiterate that I’m very, very sorry.’
The judge barred them from profiting from the hoax for four years. He argued that the couple had acted not on the behest of any TV companies, but that ‘they came up with it all on their own, not necessarily just to get a TV show but at least to put their name out there again and maybe in hopes that somebody would pick them up’.
‘For that,’ he said, ‘they do need to be punished.’