The parents behind the “Balloon Boy” hoax have been pardoned by the governor of Colorado more than a decade after the saga captivated the nation.
Richard and Mayumi Heene reported on Oct. 15, 2009, that their 6-year-old son had floated away in a giant helium weather balloon from their home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
It prompted a chase of more than an hour that included dozens of emergency responders and two Colorado National Guard helicopters, and the story dominated the media and the public’s attention.
But when the balloon landed, no boy was in it. He was later found hiding in the attic of his parents’ garage. Public concern pivoted quickly to skepticism, and authorities ultimately reported that the parents had engineered the incident as a publicity stunt to market themselves for reality TV shows. They had previously appeared on “Wife Swap.”
In a statement Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) announced clemency for both parents and for 20 other people.
“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 the 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. It’s time to no longer let a permanent criminal record from the balloon boy saga follow and drag down the parents for the rest of their lives.”
According to the Denver Post, the governor told both the Heenes in separate letters that he believed they had suffered enough legal and social consequences in the intervening years to prevent them from ever repeating their mistakes.
Richard Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail for attempting to influence a public servant. His wife served 20 days for false reporting to authorities. Both pleaded guilty. Nonetheless, both deny that the ordeal was a hoax.
Richard said in 2014 that they pleaded guilty because they wanted to avoid Mayumi’s deportation to Japan or losing their kids.