Hometown of so-called ‘Barefoot Bandit’ glad he’s in jail, don’t want mom to profit from story

By Gene Johnson, AP
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WA town glad so-called ‘Barefoot Bandit’ in jail

CAMANO ISLAND, Wash. — Residents of a rural Washington island lashed out at the mother of a teenager dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit,” saying she’s trying to profit from a crime spree that police say took him from the cedar trees here to the bright beaches of the Bahamas.

Colton Harris-Moore, 19, was due in court Tuesday in the Bahamas, where he was arrested early Sunday after a high-speed boat chase.

The arrest came as a relief to residents on Camano Island, Wash., where authorities say he learned to dodge police, but his mother’s decision to hire a well-known Seattle lawyer who has represented Courtney Love and Jimi Hendrix’s father drew widespread derision.

“Of course she wants the money. She doesn’t work,” said Joshua Flickner, whose family owns an island grocery store. “What makes me more angry than the fact that she’s trying to profit off this is that there’s any profit to be had.”

The mother’s attorney downplayed any profit motive, saying Pam Kohler contacted him for advice after being inundated by requests from news reporters as well as inquiries about book and movie deals.

“Her feelings are relief and exhaustion,” O. Yale Lewis said. “Obviously, there is enormous interest in this story, and she wants to be careful about how to proceed. But her first concern has been to make sure her son is safe.

“And I think she hasn’t given much thought beyond that,” he said.

Kohler lives in a trailer where she raised him. It sits deep in thick woods, down a long gravel drive past a spraypainted sign warning trespassers that they’ll be shot. She did not return a call seeking comment, but issued a statement through Lewis.

“I am very relieved that Colt is now safe and that no one was hurt during his capture,” it said. “I have not yet been able to speak to him. It has been over two-and-a-half years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly.”

Prosecutors in the U.S. are preparing cases against him. Harris-Moore is suspected in about 70 property crimes across eight states and British Columbia, many of them in the bucolic islands of Washington state. He is accused of stealing a plane from an Indiana airport to fly to the Caribbean.

He was due in court in Nassau on suspicion of illegal weapons possession and what officials described as a “litany” of other charges.

Harris-Moore told police in the Bahamas that he came to the country, located off the Florida coast, because it has so many islands, airports and docks, according to an officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

The teenager claimed that he told islanders he was trying to get to Cuba so he could throw police off his trail, but he intended to make his way to the Turks and Caicos Islands southeast of the Bahamas, the officer said.

The suspect learned from the Internet that the British territory has a small police force and no marine defense force, according to the officer.

Harris-Moore spent Monday being questioned by investigators. Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade described him as eloquent, calm, cooperative and “obviously a very intelligent young man,” but declined to say whether he made any confession.

Greenslade said the defendant could be extradited to the U.S. relatively quickly, but declined to comment further on the handling of the case.

Kohler’s older sister, Sandra Puttmann, of Arlington, was the first relative to hear from Harris-Moore after his arrest Sunday. She said he’s “holding up” but scared now that he’s in custody for the first time since he walked away from a halfway house south of Seattle.

Harris-Moore didn’t have his mother’s phone number, she said. She gave it to him, but as of Monday night, he still had not spoken with Kohler.

“I’m so glad he got through to me,” Puttmann said. “At least he heard a friendly voice. We cried together.”

Puttmann declined to divulge further details of what she described as their brief phone conversation Sunday. But she angrily criticized news stories about her nephew, saying reporters typically gloss over his difficult upbringing.

Police routinely accused him of stealing even when he hadn’t and school officials didn’t give him a chance, she said — something police and school officials have adamantly denied.

Harris-Moore told a psychologist in 2008 that his mother was abusive when she’d been drinking, according to a court document cited Monday by The Herald newspaper of Everett. His father left when he was a toddler, and his stepfather died when he was 7, Kohler has said.

“The boy needs help, and he’s still just a boy — even if he’s 19,” Puttmann said. “You have to assume something made him go bad … Why don’t you go into detail on that?”

Other Camano residents had little sympathy.

“There’s a lot of relief throughout the community,” said real estate agent Mark Williams. “I think the man’s luck just wore out. You run through the woods long enough, you’re going to trip over a log.”

Associated Press writer Juan McCartney contributed from Nassau, Bahamas.

(This version CORRECTS that Harris-Moore was captured after a high-speed boat chase).)

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