Where Are They Now: Balloon Boy and Other Kid Newsmakers

When you’re a kid, you never expect to be front page of every newspaper or on cable news 24/7. Hell, as a kid you don’t really expect much, do you? So for these young people, it must have been quite the experience, and one that many of their peers have never been through.

It was recently announced that the famous 2010 Balloon Boy has now launched a heavy metal career, because the hoax he and his parents pulled three years ago wasn’t enough to make them famous. Here’s a where are they now of some of the world’s most famous kids.

Balloon Boy aka Falcon Heene

Year: 2009

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado

The story

 On October 15th, a large silver gas balloon filled with helium was floating over the air in Colorado. Six-year-old Falcon Heene’s parents, Richard and Mayumi, attested that their son was inside said balloon. The UFO looking apparatus was reaching altitudes nearing 7,000 feet, and local news stations picked it up. Soon enough, little Falcon Heene became a national sensation, with major news networks breaking scheduled programming to track “Balloon Boy,” and if he would make it back down to earth safely.

Turns out, Balloon Boy was never actually in the balloon. After more than an hour long flight spanning over 50 miles and three counties, the balloon landed close to the Denver International Airport, where it was eventually closed down and National Guard helicopters and police tracked the balloon down, mainly in fear that Falcon had fallen out.

Later that afternoon, it was revealed that Balloon Boy was actually attic boy, since he was in their house hiding, afraid after his dad yelled at him. Critics started to become suspicious of the Heenes, especially after Falcon was interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, when Wolf asked him why he did it, Falcon responded, “You guys (his parents) said that, um, we did this for the show.”

Richard and Mayumi pled guilty to the charge of attempting to inlfuence a public servant, and Richard was sentenced to 90 days in jail, while Mayumi served 20 days of weekend jail. They were also forced to pay $36,000 in restitution.

Where are they now?

The entire family has moved to Florida, but is currently touring the Northeast with their heavy mental band, Heene Boyz, which includes 10-year-old Falcon, and his 12 year old and 13 year old brothers (I am serious. This is NOT a hoax). They have an EP called American Chili, which features a song called “Duct Tape Man”. For you folks back home in Rochester, you’ve unfortunately missed out, since they played a gig there on July 6th. But they’re still on the road, and planning to come out with a full length album soon, so don’t you worry.

Baby Jessica (McClure)

Year: 1986

Location: Midland, Texas

The Story

Jessica “Baby Jessica” McClure made national news when she fell into a backyard well at the age of 18 months. For 58 hours straight, rescuers tried to free Baby Jessica from the eight inch well, which went down 22 feet below the ground. They eventually got her out after a shaft was dug parallel to the well, and a tunnel connecting the two helped a paramedic come up from behind Baby Jess and slowly push her out. Fun fact: They slathered the walls with KY Jelly to get her out. Super. Baby Jessica caused a media frenzy and a 1989 made for TV movie was even made, titled, “Everybody’s Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure”.

Where are they now

Jessica, who is no longer a baby (and is almost exactly two months younger than me), grew up like any normal teenager, graduated high school in 2004, and married Daniel Morales in 2006. The couple has two children, a son Simon and daughter Sheyenne. When Jess turned 25, she received access to the trust fund her parents set up from donations from people during her time in the well – which totaled to $800,000. So in order to become an almost millionaire, I should’ve got stuck in a well as a tot? Ugh.

Elizabeth Smart

Year: 2002

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

The Story

At 14 years old, Elizabeth was kidnapped from her bedroom in SLC. Her nine-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, watched it all go down, but kept silent in fear she too would be abducted. Immediately after her abduction, nearly 2,000 volunteers per day were sent out to nearby areas to find her, but to no avail. Mary Katherine finally remembered where she had heard Elizabeth’s abductor’s voice before, as the family hired unemployed people to help out around the house, and it was a man named Emmanuel, real name Brian David Mitchell, who was the culprit. Nine months after she was abducted, she was found in Sandy, Utah, nearly 18 miles from her home, in the house of Mitchell, who raped her daily during her captivity.

Mitchell was later found guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault, and is currently serving two life-terms in federal prison.

Where are they now

Elizabeth went on to study music as a harp performance major at Brigham Young University. In 2009, she moved to Paris to serve her Mormon mission. In 2011, Elizabeth became a commentator for ABC, specifically reporting on missing persons, and also founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation that same year, whose mission is to educate children about violent and sexual crime.

Last year, she married a Scottish man, Matthew Gilmour, whom she met while on her mission in Paris. Her memoir is due to be released this fall.

Elian Gonzalez

Year: 1999

Location: Miami, Florida

The Story

Five-year-old Elian and his mother left their native Cuba and attempted to get to the U.S. in hopes for a better life. However, during their voyage in a small boat across the seas to Miami, his mother drowned, leaving Elian as only one of three people to survived the trip. He was soon found by the U.S. Coast guard in an inner tube, and brought him to American shores. The INS placed Elian with his uncle in Miami, but his father back in Cuba demanded his son be brought back to his hometown, and files a complaint with the UN. Elian’s story soon becomes worldwide news and an international custody battle between two countries with a storied history.

Elian slowly begins to have a normal American lifestyle, but back in Cuba, rallies with hundreds of people protest for Elian’s return to Cuba, and even then-President Fidel Castro spoke out in favor of the kid.  Elian’s uncle filed for primary custody of him, and his father arrives in the U.S. on a visa granted by the State Department, promising U.S. officials would transfer Elian to his father. But the dad is blocked yet again when an 11th circuit court of appeals sides with Elian’s Florida family. US federal agents then stormed the Miami home and grabbed Elian at gunpoint and brought him back to cuba with his father, where he was lauded as a hero.

Where are they now?

Now 19 years old, Elian attends Cuban Military Academy and is doing well with his father. As for his relatives’ Miami home? It’s now a museum with Elian memorabilia. Stay classy, America.

McCaughey septuplets

Year: 1997

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

The Story

Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey are the parents of the world’s first set of septuplets to survive infancy. They were born nine weeks premature, and each weighed 3 lbs or less when they were born. The couple, who had one daughter before the septuplets, named their kids normal names: Kenneth (Kenny) Robert, Alexis May, Natalie Sue, Kelsey Ann, Nathan Roy, Brandon James, Joel Steven.

Before they were born, the McCaugheys gained national and world attention, even gracing the cover of Time magazine. Donations started pouring in, including a new house, a van, diapers for the first two years, and the State of Iowa offering full college scholarships upon HS graduation to any state university in Iowa.

Where are they now

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 10.45.01 PM

The kids are now 15 years old and entering their sophomore year in high school come fall. Not really much to report besides the fact that they’re almost old enough to drive, which makes you even older. You’re welcome. (watch an interview of them from last year here)

Zlata Filipović

Year: 1993

Location: Sarajevo

The Story

Dubbed the “Anne Frank of Sarajevo”, 11 year old Zlata wrote about her and her family during the Bosnian war in her diary, which she called Mimmy. For two years, she wrote about the horrifying siege in her hometown, where bombs were a constant, hundreds of thousands were left with no food, electricity, or water, and nearly 100,000 lost their lives.

UNICEF workers in Sarajevo heard about her diary, and published it as a pamphlet, but when French journalists got a hold of it, they shopped it around and her manuscript was purchased by a French publisher. Zlata and her family all survived the war and they escaped to Paris for three years before moving to Dublin.

Where are they now

Zlata went on to attend St. Andrew’s College in Dublin, then graduated from the University of Oxford with a BA in human sciences. She returned to Dublin and has lived there ever since.  Now 32, Zlata is a producer on various films and short docs. And she’s on Twitter!


2 thoughts on “Where Are They Now: Balloon Boy and Other Kid Newsmakers

  1. Pingback: Saturday Spotlight: Weekend World Tour | cookies + sangria

  2. Pingback: Wretched Richard’s Almanac: Kids Say the Darnedest Things | Tis Pity He's a Writer

Comments are closed.