Colton Harris-Moore, who hopscotched his way across the U.S. and escaped in a stolen plane to the Bahamas, lived up to his legend Wednesday, eluding a manhunt after allegedly committing a new series of break-ins on a normally quiet island.
MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas — Colton Harris-Moore, who hopscotched his way across the U.S. and appears to have escaped in a stolen plane to the Bahamas, lived up to his legend Wednesday, eluding a manhunt after allegedly committing a new series of break-ins on a normally quiet island.
Bahamian police interviewed burglary victims while searching for the 19-year-old Camano Island man on Great Abaco Island days after the fugitive dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” is suspected of crash-landing the plane and making his way to shore.
His arrival coincided with an annual regatta that could make it easy for him to blend in among the crowds of visiting tourists.
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A Royal Bahamian Police Force bulletin warned that Harris-Moore should be considered “armed and dangerous.”
Bar and restaurant owner Alistair McDonald said he was one of Harris-Moore’s latest victims.
McDonald said surveillance video captured the suspect inside his establishment in Great Abaco’s Marsh Harbour before dawn Tuesday. He said the suspect at one point looked directly into a security camera, then shone a flashlight into it to blur the image and turned all three security cameras to the wall.
“He seemed pretty relaxed and at ease,” McDonald said, adding that he thinks the burglar was looking for money or got spooked because he left empty-handed.
Service-station owner Dwight Pinder said his shop on the southern tip of Great Abaco was burglarized Sunday night, shortly after the plane crash in a nearby marsh. The thief stole a Gatorade and two packets of potato chips, leaving a bundle of food and drinks on the counter — a sign he apparently left in a rush. Pinder told The Associated Press the thief was so skilled that he didn’t even scratch the lock he picked.
A nearby house also was burglarized, with the thief making off with a brown Chevrolet Tahoe later found abandoned in the town of Marsh Harbour.
Assistant Police Commissioner Glenn Miller said Harris-Moore is a suspect in the burglary of at least seven homes and businesses on Great Abaco, the largest of dozens of small islands and cays that make up the sprawling Bahamas archipelago east of Florida. The island is small, but its dense clusters of trees could provide good cover for a proven outdoorsman like Harris-Moore.
National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said local authorities were working with the FBI, which posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to Harris-Moore’s capture.
“If he is there to be caught, our police will catch him,” Turnquest said.
Assistant Superintendent Hulan Hanna said police believed the fugitive was still on Abaco.
“We have taken steps to neutralize the areas he may try to use to leave the island,” Hanna said. “We have been talking to people on the ground; we have distributed fliers featuring his photo throughout the island.”
Caroline Smith, a clerk at a marina in Marsh Harbour, said the manhunt on the typically quiet island of 16,000 residents has people buzzing with rumors.
“I’ve heard he stole a car. Someone else says he stole a boat. Everybody’s talking a whole lot,” Smith said.
Harris-Moore grew up in the woods of Camano Island. His mother, Pam Kohler, has said he displayed a love of thieving at a young age.
His first conviction — for possession of stolen property — came at age 12. Within a few months of turning 13, he had three more. Each brought a 10-day stint in detention or community service.
In 2007, he was sentenced to nearly four years in juvenile detention after being caught in an unoccupied home when a neighbor noticed the lights on. But he did well enough at the detention center that he was transferred to a halfway house, where he sneaked out of an open window more than two years ago.
He has since been linked to dozens of burglaries, including several airplane thefts.
He was pinned with the nickname “Barefoot Bandit” for allegedly committing some crimes while shoeless.
Kohler said she wasn’t surprised her son might be able to make the 1,000-mile (1,610-kilometer) flight from where the plane was stolen in Bloomington, Ind., to the Bahamas after teaching himself how to fly.
She has publicly defended her son and claims the allegations against him are exaggerated. She told The Associated Press she would have preferred he fled to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.
“The furthest he gets from the U.S., the better,” she said from her home on Camano Island. “I’m glad he’s able to enjoy beautiful islands, but they extradite. It doesn’t help matters at all.”
Kohler said she is worried about his safety. “Colt is not to be flying a single engine-plane,” she insisted, saying she was worried about engine failure. “When I heard that, that just upset me. The rules are he carries a parachute with him and he takes two-engine planes. Tell him he needs to call me.”
On Elbow Cay, one of dozens of tiny islands scattered around Great Abaco Island, residents said they were being vigilant.
“We’re keeping an eye out for him and just hoping he doesn’t do anything crazy,” said Valery McPhee, who runs a convenience store in the enclave of Hope Town.
On Orcas Island, which has been one of Harris-Moore’s favorite stamping grounds in the past year, an official said he hoped reports of Harris-Moore’s apparent adventures abroad meant he wouldn’t be coming back soon.
“Speaking on behalf of the business community, we’re thrilled,” Chamber of Commerce Director Lance Evans said. “We’re hopeful that authorities anywhere he finds himself will catch him.”