On the run: juvenile delinquent becomes a folklore hero

THERE is something about Colton Harris-Moore that polarises opinion. To the 13,253 members of his Facebook fan club, he is a new Jesse James (without the murders). To those with a literary bent, he has a touch of the Sundance Kid or Huckleberry Finn. But to the many victims of his burglaries around the north-west coast of the US and into Canada, he is a no-good thieving scoundrel.His main claim to fame is that he’s brilliant at evading arrest. For the past 20 months he has been on the run, hiding out no one quite knows where, but many suspect deep in the woods that carpet this wild region. Wanted posters bearing his face have been scattered around the island where he grew up in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, where he has committed many of the more than 50 burglaries that are held against him.With each sighting, the scale of his criminal activity has grown, as has his fame. He has gone from a troubled kid into an internet idol and a folklore hero.On top of his accomplishments as a fugitive, two other features boom out about Harris-Moore. He is just 18. And as video footage and forensic evidence show, he carries out many of his escapades in bare feet.Our tale starts on April 29, 2008, when our misunderstood hero-cum-hoodlum disappears from a halfway house where people on juvenile detention orders are reintroduced to society.Harris-Moore was into the second of a three-year sentence for a previous rash of burglaries.First stop: Elger Bay Cafe on Camano Island. It is just after midnight on July 18, 2008. Harris-Moore has been on the run for six weeks and a police officer is following a Mercedes that has been driving oddly. As the police car closes in, the driver screeches into the restaurant car park and jumps out of the moving car. The driver, who is identified as our criminal wunderkind, is spotted running into the woods.A search of the car uncovers Harris-Moore’s prized possessions: stolen credit cards, a GPS unit, a mobile phone and a camera from which is downloaded the portrait of him that has become his definitive image.Next stop: the airport on Orcas Island, 60 kilometres north of Camano. It is November 12, 2008. Harris-Moore has now been on the lam, as they say in these parts, for more than six months. A burglar helps himself into a parked single-propeller plane and makes a getaway.The plane is found 480 kilometres to the east, having made a crash landing on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Police have not revealed how they identified Harris-Moore as a suspect, but a telltale sign was the footprints discovered inside the aircraft, suggesting that the burglar had been reclining with his bare feet up like a lord in his manor.Then on September 11 this year, another plane went missing, this time from Friday Harbour, an island further west. It, too, crash-landed, back on Orcas Island where the first plane had been swiped. After the crash, Harris-Moore was spotted walking away from the wreckage by a police officer, who, following well-established tradition, failed to apprehend the boy.As news of the aerial adventures spread, Harris-Moore’s celebrity mushroomed. The Facebook fan club burst into life, proclaiming: ”Let’s hope that he remains healthy, free and at large for a long time! Fly Colton, Fly!”T-shirt companies began offering ranges in his honour, bearing his image and the logo ”Free Colton”. A musician penned a Ballad Of Barefoot Harris. Film producers pounced and a book is in the works.After his crash landing in Orcas, the teenager appears to have stolen a boat to reach a peninsula near Canada. Police watched bemused as a series of burglaries erupted on the other side of the border, blazing a trail across British Columbia. The path led back over the border to an airport in northern Idaho.Investigators later discovered footprints – bare, of course – in the hangar where a Cessna was stolen and flown to Granite Falls, north of Seattle. For a third time there was a crash landing.Three dozen SWAT officers were sent to scour the woods, backed up by a US Customs Black Hawk helicopter. The youth was nowhere to be found.Told of this alleged third plane theft, Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, said: ”I’m proud of him. I was going to send him to flight school, but I guess I don’t have to.” And she had this deeply moralistic advice for her fugitive son: ”Next time, wear a parachute and practise your landing!”His criminal behaviour fits into a sorry saga of an absent, drug-using father and a mother with a history of alcoholism. He usually breaks into uninhabited holiday houses and squats for a while before moving on. Investigators have likened it to a sort of Goldilocks syndrome. Or as one of his friends put it to the Seattle Weekly: ”He started breaking into people’s homes because he wanted to see what it was like to live a normal life.”Whatever the motivations, things are not looking rosy for the barefoot bandit. Fugitives have a way of being caught. At best, having turned 18 in March, he now faces trial as an adult.Yet he may not get there. During the search at Granite Falls, police reported that a shot was fired in their direction. ”If he did shoot that gun, it was really stupid,” his mother said. ”That gives the cops a reason to shoot him. I don’t expect him to come out alive.”Guardian News & Media
Nanjing Night Net