In Ba­hamas, ‘Bare­foot Bandit’ gets hand­cuffed

Teen ac­cused of tak­ing money, planes, boats in 2-year spree is ar­rested

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Juan McCart­ney and Mike Melia

NAS­SAU, Ba­hamas — For two years, he stayed a step ahead of the law — steal­ing cars, power­boats and even air­planes, po­lice say, while build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a 21st-cen­tury folk hero. On Sun­day, Colton Har­ris-Moore’s celebrity be­came his down­fall.

Wit­nesses on the Ba­hamian is­land of Eleuthera rec­og­nized the 19-year-old dubbed the “Bare­foot Bandit” and called po­lice, who cap­tured him af­ter a high-speed boat chase, Ba­hamas Po­lice Com­mis­sioner El­li­son Greenslade said at a cel­e­bra­tory news con­fer­ence in Nas­sau, the cap­i­tal.

Po­lice flew Har­ris-Moore in shack­les to Nas­sau. True to his nick­name, the 6-foot-5-inch teen with close-shorn hair was shoe­less as he walked off the plane wear­ing short cam­ou­flage cargo pants, a

Con­tin­ued from A white long-sleeved shirt and a bul­let­proof vest.

Har­ris-Moore is blamed for sev­eral thefts in the Ba­hamas, and au­thor­i­ties said he will be pros­e­cuted for those crimes be­fore the start of any U.S. ex­tra­di­tion pro­ceed­ings.

Is­land po­lice had been search­ing for the teen since he was be­lieved to have crash­landed a plane on Abaco, where he was blamed for at least seven bur­glar­ies. The search ex­panded to Eleuthera af­ter po­lice there re­cov­ered a 44-foot power­boat that had been re­ported stolen from Abaco.

Po­lice said sev­eral peo­ple re­ported see­ing the teenager Wed­nes­day night in the wa­ters be­tween Eleuthera and Har­bour Is­land, a nearby tourist des­ti­na­tion known for its art gal­leries. They dis­cov­ered a se­ries of break-ins the next day. Har­ris-Moore was spot­ted in the same area early Sun­day.

Greenslade said the high­speed chase be­gan about 2 a.m. Sun­day af­ter po­lice re­ceived tips from mem­bers of the pub­lic that the sus­pect was on Har­bour Is­land.

The chase ended in the wa­ters off the Romora Bay Re­sort & Ma­rina on Har­bour Is­land, where se­cu­rity di­rec­tor Ken­neth Stra­chan re­ported see­ing a young man run­ning through the bush bare­foot with a hand­gun, said Anne Ward, who man­ages the prop­erty.

“When Kenny spot­ted him, he had a knap­sack over his shoul­der and a gun, and he was yelling, ‘They’re go­ing to kill me. They’re go­ing to kill me.’ He was run­ning up the dock,” Ward said.

She said the fugi­tive ran back to the wa­ter and stole an­other boat but ran aground in the shal­lows, where po­lice shot out his en­gine.

“At one point, the boy threw his com­puter in the wa­ter and put a gun to his head. He was go­ing to kill him­self. Po­lice talked him out of it,” Ward said.

Po­lice de­clined to say whether Ward’s ac­count was ac­cu­rate.

The teen had been on the run since es­cap­ing from a Washington state half­way house in 2008. He is ac­cused of break­ing into dozens of homes and com­mit­ting bur­glar­ies in Washington, Bri­tish Columbia and Idaho.

He is also sus­pected of Po­lice found these chalk draw­ings in a gro­cery store on Or­cas Is­land, Wash., af­ter it was bro­ken into in Fe­bru­ary. Colton Har­risMoore is sus­pected of mul­ti­ple thefts in that area. steal­ing at least five planes — in­clud­ing the air­craft he is be­lieved to have taken in In­di­ana and flown more than 1,000 miles to the Ba­hamas, de­spite a lack of for­mal flight train­ing.

Some of what he is sus­pected of do­ing seemed in­tended to taunt po­lice: In Fe­bru­ary, some­one who broke into a gro­cery store on Washington’s San Juan Is­lands drew car­toon­ish, chalk-out­line feet all over the floor.

Through it all, his ranks of sup­port­ers grew. Some of his more than 60,000 Face­book fans posted dis­ap­pointed mes­sages Sun­day, while oth­ers pro­moted T-shirts and tote bags with the words “Free Colton!” and “Let Colton Fly!”

Even some­one in the Ba­hamas had mixed feel­ings.

“I feel like it would have been good if he got away be­cause he never hurt any­body, but then he was run­ning from the law,” said Ruthie Key, who owns a mar­ket on Great Abaco Is­land and let Har­ris-Moore use her wire­less In­ter­net con­nec­tion July 5.

“He seemed very in­no­cent when I spoke with him at the store. I don’t think he’d hurt any­body,” Key said.

Har­ris-Moore is a skilled out­doors­man who honed his abil­i­ties grow­ing up in the woods of Ca­mano Is­land in Puget Sound about 30 miles north of Seat­tle.

His mother, Pam Kohler, has said he had a trou­bled child­hood. His first con­vic­tion, for pos­ses­sion of stolen prop­erty, came at 12. Shortly af­ter turn­ing 13, he had three more.

Kohler has de­fended her son, say­ing the al­le­ga­tions against him are ex­ag­ger­ated. She has told the AP that she hoped he would flee to a coun­try that doesn’t have an ex­tra­di­tion treaty with the U.S.

Reached early Sun­day at her Ca­mano home, Kohler said she had no com­ment.

Vic­tims of the crimes Har­ris-Moore is ac­cused of were happy to see him in cus­tody.

“These peo­ple that sup­port him, they’ve never been vi­o­lated by hav­ing him break into their homes or busi­nesses,” said Joni Fowler, man­ager of a cafe on Or­cas Is­land, north of Seat­tle, where Har­ris-Moore is ac­cused of tak­ing as much as $1,500.

Emily Lan­glie, a spokes­woman for the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Seat­tle, said that af­ter Har­ris-Moore faces charges in the Ba­hamas, her of­fice would seek to ex­tra­dite him to Washington state and co­or­di­nate with lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions about how his case would pro­ceed.

“There are ob­vi­ously many ju­ris­dic­tions that would like to pros­e­cute him,” she said.

Colton Har­ris-Moore es­caped from a Washington state half­way house in 2008.

Mered­ith Grif­fith

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