When 8-year-old Dayami sent her Christmas wish list aloft from Nogales, Mexico — tied carefully to a bright red balloon — she had hoped the handwritten list would make it to Santa Claus.
Instead, the little girl’s list dropped onto the property of Randy Heiss in Patagonia, Arizona, where he found the tattered balloon stuck upon some sacaton grass as he hiked the land behind his ranch.
“My Spanish isn’t very good, but I could see it was a Christmas list,” he told The Washington Post in a phone interview Friday.
Heiss was charmed. He suspected that a child had tried to send Santa Claus a Christmas wish list by balloon, something he used to do himself when he was a kid. Nobody had ever returned the letters Heiss had sent aloft — but he wondered whether he couldn’t find the girl who had sent this one.
Heiss was confident the balloon sailed in from the Nogales area due to the prevailing winds — a city home to about a quarter-million residents.
Heiss brought the note home to his wife, who is fluent in Spanish and helped him translate the list. They determined that Dayami, probably a girl, had asked for an “Enchantimals” doll, an “Enchantimals” dollhouse, clothes, art supplies and slime, among other things.
Heiss then posted about his quest on Facebook, attaching photos, hoping some of his friends in Nogales might know the girl’s family.
After no leads surfaced from his social media campaign, Heiss reached out to local radio station in Nogales:
On Wednesday, he decided to send a private Facebook message to Radio XENY, an AM radio station based in Nogales, according to Nogales International, which first reported the story.
To his surprise, someone from the station called him back right away. Heiss’s wife helped explain the situation to Radio XENY host Cesar Barron, who talked about the quest to find Dayami on air and posted about it on the station’s Facebook page.
On Thursday morning, Heiss awoke to another message from Radio XENY: They had located Dayami, an 8-year-old girl, and her family, who indeed lived in Nogales. Would they be willing to arrange a get-together at the radio station?
Heiss and his wife got straight to shopping, fulfilling all but one item on Dayami’s list and throwing in some gifts for her 4-year-old little sister as well.
The couple then drove across the border to the radio station to meet Dayami:
“Their eyes were wide open with wonder,” Heiss said of the two sisters' reactions. “Like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this really did work!' "
Not wanting to spoil Santa Claus for the girls — who still believe, their parents said — Heiss and his wife told them they were “ayudantes de Santa,” or Santa’s helpers.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” Heiss said.
Heiss said he and his wife were touched by the experience, which they also found healing:
Heiss, 60, has lived in southeastern Arizona for more than three decades and now splits his time between Patagonia and the city of Bisbee. Nine years ago, he and his wife lost their only child, a son. They have no grandchildren.