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The Barefoot Bandit Finally Caught. Ready, Hollywood?

5 minute read
Tim McGirk

The photograph from Nassau summed it all up: his head bowed in defeat, Colton Harris-Moore, the teenage “Barefoot Bandit,” was led away by police in the Bahamas on Sunday, July 11, with glittering steel manacles hobbling his bare feet. For Harris-Moore, 19, it was the end of an epic, two-year spree in which he allegedly robbed homes and stole cars, boats and airplanes, cheeky thefts that attracted thousands of young Internet fans and the rage of lawmen across six states and Canada.

The last leg of Harris-Moore’s flight from the law was the most spectacular of all. Allegedly traveling by stolen cars and airplanes, Harris-Moore, a lanky, 6 ft. 5 in. youth, made his way eastward from his native Washington state to Bloomington, Ind. From there, he hot-wired a single-engine Cessna and, apparently using a pocket GPS, flew the plane at some point last week to the Bahamas, where he crash-landed it in the shallows off the Great Abacos island. This feat was all the more remarkable considering that Harris-Moore, labeled a problem student, never finished high school and reportedly never had a single flying lesson; everything he learned was through the Internet and flying manuals.

(See the top 10 bandits.)

Once in the Bahamas, Harris-Moore allegedly carried on with the fugitive life that had worked so well for him on the Puget Sound islands: breaking into deserted resort homes. But he wasn’t after Picassos or silverware. Authorities say that like any teenager, he would raid the fridge for snacks. Then he would steal whatever cash or goodies he could find that might prove useful for his life on the run. His single moment of socializing, say authorities, was when he was sighted buying a drink for a girl in a Bahamas bar. (As soon as word spread that Harris-Moore had fled to the Bahamas, at least one Bahamian girl in his Facebook fan club tried to arrange a date with him.)

(Read TIME’s story “America’s Most Wanted Teenage Bandit.”)

After slipping ashore from the crashed Cessna in the Bahamas, Harris-Moore was spotted by a surveillance camera breaking into a restaurant in the island’s main town, Marsh Harbour. When the Bahamian police launched a manhunt on the island, Harris-Moore, carrying a laptop, a GPS and a 9-mm handgun — and still barefoot — stole a 44-ft. powerboat and zoomed 40 miles away to Eleuthera island, according to authorities. From there, he switched to a smaller 15-ft. skiff and motored to Harbour Island. He was spotted docking at the Romora Bay Resort around midnight Saturday by a security guard, Kenneth Strachan. Harris-Moore ran past the guard on the dock, yelling, “They’re after me! They’re after me! They’re going to kill me!”

(See the top 10 manhunts.)

Nearly two hours later, Harris-Moore doubled back to the marina, only to find that the guard had cut the wires on his skiff to prevent him from escaping. So he jump-started an even larger and more powerful boat. By then, it was 2 a.m. and low tide. Unfamiliar with the hidden reefs, Harris-Moore roared off — smack into the coral sands. Police were giving chase in two boats. They closed in and shot out his engine. But when they tried to arrest the teenager, he put the barrel of his 9-mm pistol to his own head. Police say they talked him out of shooting himself.

The high-speed boat chase, says Ellison Greenslade, commissioner of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, was “like something you might see in the movies.” And chances are, it won’t be long before you do see it in the movies. According to several entertainment-news reports, Hollywood agents and book publishers, not to mention a few pricey lawyers, are circling around the home of Harris-Moore’s mother Pam Kohler, who lives in the forest on Camano Island in Washington in a trailer with a “Trespassers Will Be Shot” sign on her dirt driveway (and who has denied hearing from her son during his time on the run).

Harris-Moore is likely to be charged with property theft and illegal entry into the country by Bahamian authorities. Or the Bahamians may choose to extradite him back to the U.S., where he could face up to 15 years for theft and taking stolen property across state lines. Some of his 76,642 Facebook fans are predicting that it won’t be long before he escapes. (T-shirts with the phrase “Run, Colton, Run” are hot items among Seattle teens.) But having been embarrassed for so long by this elusive and quick-witted teenager, authorities will no doubt be extra vigilant.

(See the top 10 crime duos.)

When news of Harris-Moore’s arrest reached back to Camano, islanders were relieved that the youth had been captured alive. Says innkeeper Carolin DiLorenzo: “Everyone was honking their horns and flashing a thumbs-up to the policemen.” Local stained-glass artist and musician Jack Archibald says, “We’re relieved that he was caught without being hurt — or hurting anybody.” Archibald says that at first he was annoyed by all the fuss over the Barefoot Bandit. But then, he says, “I switched. Like a lot of folks, I wanted to see how far this kid could go.” Even running barefoot, the alleged bandit managed to get pretty far.

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