In a modern-day version of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can, the manhunt for Colton Harris-Moore aka “The Barefoot Bandit” is over.
Without saying a word, the teenager accused in a two-year string of sometimes shoeless burglaries and other crimes that helped him gain international notoriety agreed Friday to return to Washington state to face federal charges.
Hector Dopico, an assistant federal public defender temporarily representing the 19-year-old Harris-Moore, told a federal judge that the defendant waived his right to a hearing on whether he should be transferred to Seattle. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube said Harris-Moore would be handed over to the U.S. Marshals Service, which will handle his travel. Harris-Moore, clad in the typical tan jail jumpsuit, shackled at the wrists and ankles and wearing socks and sandals, said nothing during the brief hearing. Dopico said a bail hearing would likely be held in the coming weeks in federal court in Seattle.
So, who is Colton Harris-Moore? The 19-year-old man is from Camano Island, Washington. He was first arrested at 12 years old and had been on the lam since escaping in 2008 from a Seattle halfway house. He is the suspected thief of at least five small aircraft, a boat and two cars, and in the burglaries of at least 100 private residences in various locations around the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. Recently, as authorities were closing in, he fled to the Bahamas on July 4, 2010, allegedly in a plane stolen from Indiana. Harris-Moore was arrested in Harbour Island, Bahamas on July 11, after
police shot out the engine of the boat in which he was attempting to flee. On July 13, 2010, he was deported from Nassau, Bahamas to Miami, Florida, where he is being held in a federal jail.
He became known as the “Barefoot Bandit” by reportedly committing some of his crimes while shoeless, and once even leaving behind a chalk footprint. In Fall 2009, police found footprints at an airport hangar in Bonners Ferry, Idaho; a Cessna 182 stolen from there crash-landed approximately 260 miles to the west near Granite Falls, Washington after a few unsuccessful attempts to land at a smaller airport. Police in the San Juan Islands also found cartoonish, chalk-outlines of feet all over the floor of a grocery store that was broken into in February 2010. Despite the nickname, officials said that he more often than not wore shoes.
Authorities believe Harris-Moore stole an airplane from an Indiana airport and flew it to the Bahamas. They say he then commandeered a boat in a potential attempt to reach the more remote Turks and Caicos Islands with the intention of eventually hiding out in Cuba. But it all ended Sunday when police shot out the engine of Harris-Moore’s stolen boat, which culminated in his detainment into custody. The police in the Bahamas had threatened to charge him with several crimes, including illegal possession of a firearm, but on Tuesday he was ordered only to pay a $300 fine for the single charge of illegally landing. A lawyer for Mr. Harris-Moore, Monique Gomez, said in an interview that the police here still could pursue other charges after he returned to the United States.
In addition to the worldwide media attention, Harris-Moore has become a folk hero to many, with his Facebook page listing more than 89,000 friends who frequently post messages of encouragement for his antics.
When he reaches Seattle, Harris-Moore will face a criminal complaint charging him with interstate transport of stolen property for allegedly stealing an aircraft from Idaho in 2009 and crash-landing it in Washington. Other arrest warrants will charge him with fleeing prosecution and other crimes.
He is accused of crimes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. Mr. Harris-Moore faces many serious charges at home, including one federal charge of stealing an airplane in Idaho and transporting it across state lines, as well as state charges in dozens of other burglaries and thefts in the San Juan Islands of Washington State.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Seattle, said Mr. Harris-Moore would probably first have a hearing in South Florida, the closest jurisdiction to the Bahamas, and then would be transported to Washington.
In a South Florida court on Tuesday, Mr. Harris-Moore wore a clean pair of white sneakers, a “Bahamas” T-shirt and several fresh mosquito bites. He was met with amused approval by the crowd at the courthouse. Some spectators said he was “a smart young man” and urged him to hold his head up high rather than ducking it to avoid facing news cameras.
A courtroom orderly said in an interview that he had asked Mr. Harris-Moore how he taught himself to pilot the planes and boats that he reportedly stole during an escapade that took him from the Pacific Northwest to the Bahamas. Mr. Barefoot Bandit said he had known how since kindergarten, said the orderly, who was speaking without authorization.
As you may have already guessed, the books and movies chronicling the life and exploits of Harris-Moore are in the works, and Mama Harris-Moore has it all under control.