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'Barefoot Bandit' arrested in Bahamas

After two years of eluding the FBI and police in four states, a 19-year-old fugitive's luck runs out at a vacation resort.

July 12, 2010|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Seattle — The tall young man was carrying a knapsack and a gun, and by the time the security guard at the marina caught up with him, he was at a dead run.

"They're after me. They're after me. They're going to kill me," the teen yelled as he disappeared up a staircase.

Kenneth Strachan, the Bahamian security guard at Romora Bay Resort and Marina on the Bahamas' Harbour Island, knew instantly that a very big fish had just chewed its way off his line.

There could be no doubt that it was Colton Harris-Moore, the teenage fugitive who had led the FBI and police in four states and the Bahamas on a two-year pursuit. He is accused of burglarizing homes, offices and businesses and leaving in his wake a $3-million trail of stolen boats and crash-landed planes.

At close to 4 a.m. Sunday, authorities said Harris-Moore came back down the stairs, jumped into a 30-foot boat belonging to a marina visitor and roared away, but he quickly ran aground in shallow water. Police moved in and shot at the engine, bringing the boat to a halt and, finally, leaving the 19-year-old with nowhere to run.

Harris-Moore threw his laptop and iPhone into the water and briefly held the gun to his head, said Anne Ward, manager of the resort, who was nearby. "He was saying he was going to kill himself," she said. "But they talked him out of it, subdued him and brought him back to our marina."

There have been more serious crime sprees — authorities said Harris-Moore, when he wasn't snatching an expensive getaway vehicle, stole mainly Gatorade, potato chips, hot dogs and showers from unoccupied homes and corner groceries — but few in recent years have been as widely watched.

Known as the "Barefoot Bandit," Harris-Moore is accused of burglarizing his way across rural western Washington state for much of his young life. His first conviction, for possession of stolen property, came at age 12. Police said his latest spree began in 2008, after he escaped from a group home in Renton, Wash.

Harris-Moore has often eluded sheriff's deputies by mere moments, disappearing into the thick forests of the Pacific Northwest before they could clinch his capture. He catapulted to international fame in recent months after apparently teaching himself to fly and expanding his range into Nebraska, South Dakota and Indiana.

On June 18, a couple in Yankton, S.D., said they returned home late one night to find a tall, naked young man — later identified as Harris-Moore — just finishing a meal and a shower.

"He chased the burglar into the basement, when the subject pointed a laser at him and threatened to shoot him if he did not leave the house," said Sgt. Scott Silvernail of the Yankton Police Department. A few miles east of town, Silvernail said, Harris-Moore stole a 2008 Toyota Sequoia and abandoned it in North Fork, Neb.

On July 5, a 2009 Cessna 400 Corvalis, stolen in Bloomington, Ind., crash-landed about 1,200 miles away, six miles off the coast of Abaco Island in the Bahamas, in water about 3 feet deep. A little over 11 hours later, police there say, a nearby home was burglarized and a car stolen. Six other homes and businesses have been burglarized in the days since, police told local news reporters.

The latest theft was a 44-foot-long power boat stolen from a marina.

Reports of Harris-Moore sightings swirled across the island and nearby Harbour Island, where the Romora Bay resort is a favorite playground for celebrities and mega-yacht owners.

"The suspect, in an effort to evade capture, engaged police in a high-speed chase by boat," Ellison Greenslade, commissioner for the Royal Bahamas Police Force, told reporters in the Bahamian capital, Nassau. "After a brief chase, the suspect was taken into custody without incident."

Officials for the FBI, which had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Harris-Moore's capture, said it was not clear how quickly he could be extradited to the U.S.

"My understanding is they want first crack at him for the charges they have there in the Bahamas," said Steven Dean, assistant special agent in charge of the bureau's office in Seattle.

On Camano Island, a densely forested, rural retreat in Puget Sound north of Seattle, where Harris-Moore grew up with his single mother and is accused of committing most of his crimes, there was palpable relief.

"We're all very glad he's been caught," said Laurie Flickner, owner of Elger Bay Grocery & Cafe, which has frequently served as a Harris-Moore crime scene.

"He was a thief. A thief who violated all of our senses of security in our homes, our businesses," she said. "I've come out of the front door of my home late at night to sheriff's deputies in my yard, telling me to get back in my house; they were trying to track him down. Well, that's a little unnerving to live like that….

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