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Barefoot run ends In Bahamas
His ride ended the way it began: shoes off, in the islands. This time, Colton Harris-Moore, the tall teenager accused of being the "Barefoot Bandit" who once hopscotched the San Juan Islands of the Pacific riding stolen speedboats and airplanes, Facebook fame and boundless gumption, crash-landed in the Bahamas. And this time, he was caught. This week, the police in the Bahamas arrested him after they shot out the engines on his stolen boat and roared up beside him in open waters in the middle of the night. It had been more than two years since he had vanished from a halfway house in Seattle in 2008 and begun eluding efforts to track him in the dense forests of the region.
US officers said it could have been the success of Harris-Moore's trek - making it all the way to the Bahamas - that led to his downfall. "It was inevitable he would make a wrong move. He was in a different culture. He stood out, " Sheriff Bill Cumming of San Juan County in Washington said of the fugitive, who is now 19. On Monday, Harris-Moore was shackled and wearing a bulletproof vest as he was escorted to jail. His feet were still bare on the hot Caribbean concrete. A statement by the Royal Bahamas Police Force noted that their search "lasted for all but seven days. " Joel Lewis, a cabdriver who was at the airport when Harris-Moore was brought in said, "I was asking, 'What are all these police doing all over the place?' Then I hear it's just for one guy!"
THRILL OF THE CHASE
Harris-Moore had his first conviction, for possession of stolen property, by 13. Within a few months, he had three more. Each brought a 10-day stint in detention or community service. An Island County sheriff's deputy on Camano once caught him by posing as a pizza delivery guy after noticing a multitude of empty pizza boxes at a camp site he used. Another time, deputies saw him jump out of a stolen Mercedes. They later found his self-portrait on a stolen digital camera, posing in a black, collared shirt with a Mercedes logo. In 2007, he was sentenced to nearly four years in juvenile detention after being caught in an unoccupied home when a neighbour noticed the lights on. But he did well enough at the detention centre that he was transferred to a halfway house, where he sneaked out of an open window.
The authorities in Washington had spent two years tracking Harris-Moore, and they linked him to scores of crimes, from stealing cash and tools to speedboats and small airplanes, which they say he repeatedly crashed. Recently, the police had Harris-Moore surrounded in the picturesque Orcas Island. The sheriff's deputies were joined by dog teams and helicopters from the Department of Homeland Security. But he was able to elude the law again.
Over the two years, Harris-Moore has been accused of breaking into several empty holiday homes, taking food, stealing electronic items and even using stolen credit cards to get deliveries of items essential for surviving in the woods. Dubbed the "Barefoot Bandit", he is thought to have carried out many of his alleged crimes without shoes. In November 2008, he stole a Cessna 182 light aircraft from a hangar on Orcas Island in Washington state. Despite never having had a flying lesson, he was supposedly able to take off, eventually crash-landing it 483 km away. In September last year, he stole another plane in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, crash-landing it in Snohomish, Washington.
This week the FBI announced a $10, 000 reward for his capture, just as it was alleged that he had stolen yet another light aircraft from an airport in Bloomington, Indiana, before crash-landing off Abaco Island in the Bahamas and beginning another burglary spree.
Harris-Moore left mock footprints at the scene of his crimes, notes, and on one occasion, a cash donation to be used to help animals. Last month, a South Dakota family was reportedly startled to find a man believed to be Harris-Moore in their home, naked. Once again, he slipped away. "This was his full-time job," Cumming said. "He was not a casual fugitive. This was what he did, and we give him credit in terms of his ability to plan his activities and his escape routes."
First arrested at age 12 for several crimes, including setting fire to a high school, Harris-Moore had a difficult upbringing on Camano Island. He was raised by his mother, who he said could be abusive, according to several news media accounts over the years.
Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore's mother said her son's father left when he was about two, his stepfather died when he was seven, and from the time Harris-Moore was in first grade, she knew there was something off about him. He wouldn't listen to his teachers, started altercations at school and sometimes deliberately broke things around the house, Kohler said. And officers sometimes accused him of stealing things even when he hadn't, she added. "Every time he had anything any good, everyone thought he had stolen it," she said. "What does that do to a kid?"
Kohler, who had earlier urged her son to continue to flee and fretted publicly that she hoped he would be more careful about the planes he stole - preferably avoiding single-engine aircraft, recently hired a Seattle entertainment lawyer, to look into showbiz options for her daredevil son. "We have lots of proposals, " she said. In April, Hollywood giant 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to Taking Flight: The Hunt for a Young Outlaw, based on a story about Harris-Moore by Bob Friel.
"You have a kid, diagnosed with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], who never graduated high school, who really never took his formal education seriously, and he taught himself to navigate a plane 2, 000 km from Indiana to the Bahamas, " explained Friel. "It is easy for people who are of a certain anti-authority bent to root for him. " That no one died may be what kept Harris-Moore's story alive.
FOLK HERO OR CROOK?
A 'Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club' page on Facebook with more than 23, 000 followers describes him like this: "Western Washington's new Jesse James (without the murders). Without a doubt one of the greatest and most notable outlaws to come from an otherwise boring area. Some of his greatest achievements include the Kamikaze theft and crash landing of three airplanes (with no flight training) as well as commandeering a couple boats. Let's hope that he remains healthy, free and at large for a long time! Fly Colton, Fly!"
Criminals have been achieving cult status for as long as they have been committing crimes And Harris-Moore has become the latest in a long line of celebrity outlaws. Beyond the legend of Robin Hood, robbers like Jesse James and John Dillinger won fans simply by taking the wealthy and powerful down a notch. His exploits - stealing cars, boats, and planes from the wealthy - are a big part of his appeal to his fans. Many have gravitated to Harris-Moore simply because of his audacity. "He was living life the way a lot of people wish," one wrote. "It's about time someone live free and fly," wrote another.
Much has been made of Harris-Moore's ability to disappear, his ability to pick locks, navigate dark channels by boat and fly planes without any professional training. Law enforcement officials in Washington State expressed frustration at what they said was the glamourous light in which he has sometimes been cast, including the idea that he was harmless. "What if that plane landed on a day care or a house?" said Steven Dean, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Seattle field office. "He's potentially dangerous."
At the same time, they said Harris-Moore was not necessarily their most sought-after target. "To say he posed no danger at all would not be necessarily accurate, and to say we spent every moment looking for him is not accurate either, " Dean added. "He was just another fugitive to us. The media made him bigger than he was."
While Colton Harris-Moore has thousands of fans on Facebook - and his mother has hired a prominent entertainment lawyer to field proposals about his tale - his victims saw little romance in his spree. "It was always in the back of your mind, you're kind of wondering, when's the next one coming ?" said Scott Lancaster, who owns a hardware store on Orcas Island that Harris-Moore burglarised twice, once stealing bolt cutters and $4, 000. "It's unsettling. We were all locking our doors and we never had before."
SOCK AND AWE
Since 2008, Harris-Moore has been on a high-powered crime spree, stealing cars, boats and at least five planes, including one in which he flew to the Bahamas and crash-landed earlier this year. He taught himself how to fly using internet manuals and flight simulator computer games During his stint as a forest-dwelling fugitive, the teenager demonstrated his juvenile culinary taste. He ordered pizzas to be delivered to the edge of the Washington woods where he was hiding from the law, paying for the goodies with stolen cash Harris-Moore teased the cops with mock footprints and notes at the scene of his crimes. Once he even left $100 and a note at Vetters Animal Hospital in Washington, imploring hospital staff to "use this cash for the care of the animals"
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