Bahamas burglaries blamed on ‘barefoot bandit’ as teen fugitive eludes FBI-aided manhuntBy Mike Melia, AP
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Bahamas burglaries blamed on ‘barefoot bandit’
MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas — A teenage fugitive with a celebrated history of escapes has allegedly committed several nighttime burglaries in the Bahamas, eluding an FBI-aided manhunt on the sliver of an island where he crash-landed a stolen plane.
Investigators pursuing Colton Harris-Moore were following a trail of break-ins from the southern tip of Great Abaco Island, where the 19-year-old convict ditched the plane Sunday, to the main town of Marsh Harbour 50 miles (80 kilometers) away where the teen was recognized on surveillance footage of a restaurant burglary.
Assistant police commissioner Glenn Miller said the fugitive was still believed to be at large Thursday in Abaco. “We are intensifying our search and we are going to be relentless until we catch him,” he said.
A Royal Bahamas Police Force bulletin warned that the teen should be considered armed and dangerous.
Back in the U.S., he has become a folk hero of sorts, with a fan club hawking T-shirts emblazoned with his image, songs about his exploits and tens of thousands of followers on Facebook.
The Bahamas caper of the teen dubbed as the “Barefoot Bandit” began when he guided the single-engine Cessna into clear blue, knee-deep waters at a sparsely populated corner of the island. He apparently followed a peninsula of land to the town of Sandy Point, and he was reportedly seen walking across a road around the time a service station was burglarized Sunday night.
Station owner Dwight Pinder said 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. He said the thief was so skilled that he didn’t even scratch the lock he picked.
A nearby house was also burglarized, with the thief making off with a brown Chevrolet Tahoe that was later found abandoned in Marsh Harbour.
Early Tuesday morning he was recorded on surveillance video inside a restaurant at Marsh Harbour’s marina, said owner Alistair McDonald. He said the teen 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 face the wall.
“He seemed pretty relaxed and at ease,” McDonald said, adding he thinks the thief was looking for money or got spooked by a security guard because he left without stealing anything, not even a bottle of water. McDonald gave the tape to police.
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 are a part of the sprawling Bahamas archipelago east of Florida. The island of 16,000 people is small, but its dense clusters of trees provide good cover for a proven outdoorsman like Harris-Moore.
Crowds of visiting tourists in town for an annual regatta may also make it easier for the fugitive to escape notice.
“Around here, everyone knows everyone else. But there’s a whole lot of sailors in town, and he could easily slip in with them,” said Dave Gonin, a Canadian-born architect who lives on the island.
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 Great 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.”
Harris-Moore grew up in the woods of Camano Island in Puget Sound about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Seattle. His mother 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. After he was transferred to a halfway house, he slipped out an open window more than two years ago. The 6-foot, 5-inch Harris-Moore has since been linked to dozens of burglaries, including several airplane thefts.
Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore’s mother, 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, Indiana, 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 in Washington state. “I’m glad he’s able to enjoy beautiful islands, but they extradite. It doesn’t help matters at all.”
Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle, David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Juan McCartney and Megan Reynolds in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this report.
Tags: Bahamas, Caribbean, Facebook, Latin America And Caribbean, Marsh Harbour, North America, Seattle, Theft, United States, Washington