Heene family says 'balloon boy' headlines 'wasn't a hoax'

/ Source: TODAY

Almost six years after capturing headlines for reports that their then-6-year-old son Falcon was trapped in a balloon, the Heene family says that they were not deceiving the public for attention.

"It wasn't a hoax," Richard Heene told TODAY's Erica Hill Saturday. "It's what I do. I invent. So we were trying to keep it on the low down in the backyard. We didn't want our neighbors to see us building it."

In October 2009, Richard Heene's homemade flying saucer-shaped balloon broke loose from the family's Colorado backyard. For two hours, live TV reports chased the balloon in reports that soon turned to panic after Richard and his wife Mayumi reported that their 6-year-old was inside.

But after the balloon landed safely, it was revealed that Falcon was not inside, but rather was hiding in the family's attic. Later that night, the family appeared on CNN, which was when their story appeared to unravel as Falcon said, "We did this for a show" during the interview. The next day, the family appeared on TODAY, where Richard said that the news "wasn't a stunt" but a "horrible moment."

In 2009, Richard Heene pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to pay $36,000 in restitution. Mayumi was sentenced to 20 days of weekend jail.

During their TODAY interview Saturday, Richard said he had pleaded guilty because "the threat of deportation of my wife was imminent."

"When that came on the table, I had to take the deal that they proposed to me," he said. "So my attorney said, 'Richard, it's only a 90-day stay.' And that was a long time for me, but it really went by quickly."

The interview with the Heene family wraps up TODAY's week-long "Where Are They Now?" series exploring news stories that captivated the nation through the eyes of the people who experienced them.

Asked if they would do anything differently as they look back on their experience, Richard said no, and emphasized that the experience helped them get where they are today, with their three sons pursuing their passion for music with a rock band.

"We have a policy in our life that you don't live with regrets," he said. "Because then you become a victim and victims cannot help themselves."