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Colton Harris-Moore: The Barefoot Bandit

Catch me if you can.

For some people, the thrill of the chase makes life worth living, whether it’s a plane or boat stealing escapades from the one and only Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the Barefoot Bandit.

This unbelievable and sometimes hilarious story is from an Investigation Discovery show entitled Tabloid and hosted by Jerry Springer.

In 2008, Colton Harris-Moore became America’s Most Wanted Teenager while living in Camano Island, a tiny but rich island in the Pacific Northwest, and the last place someone would be known as an international fugitive. The island has gorgeous homes and million-dollar properties, but the inside are “rednecky” according to author of The Barefoot Bandit, Bob Friel.

Harris-Moore lived in a trailer with his single Mother, and he grew up in a rundown old home, and his neighbors were living in some luxury, according to author of Fly Colton Fly, Jackson Holtz. Harris-Moore’s father left when he was just an infant leaving his Mother to raise him on her own.

Until the age of five or six, Harris-Moore got along with his mother, but after that life inside the home became hell for him. Harris-Moore’s ten-year-old friend came to his house to see if he could play one day, and Harris-Moore’s mother greeted the boy with shotgun and said her son couldn’t play today.

Harris-Moore said he loves his mother, but her drinking kept them from having a normal relationship.

To help get in her son’s good graces, Harris-Moore’s mother bought him a bike. A cop noticed Harris-Moore was riding an expensive bike and stopped him and asked some questions. The cop instantly accused Harris-Moore of stealing the bike and asked him where he got it, and he said his mother bought it for him for his birthday. The officer put the bike in the trunk of his police car, put Harris-Moore in the back seat, and took him home.

When they arrived at the house, Harris-Moore’s mother was upset because she bought her boy the bike that he was accused of stealing. Harris-Moore was known for stealing from the community, but he was upset because he was accused of stealing something that was his.

Feeling trapped by his home life, Harris-Moore loved the freedom of the great outdoors. He loved being outdoors because it made him feel free, and he loved planes. Harris-Moore could look up at any plane in the sky and know the name of the plane, what year it was built and what engine was in it. Harris-Moore’s passion for planes even followed him as a teenager.

There were times when Harris-Moore and his mother were struggling to get by, and his mother would receive an assistance check. The money would all be spent and they would go into what she called “starvation days.” Harris-Moore had a problem with that because his mother always had cigarettes and beer, but no food in the house.

Harris-Moore was forced to go into survival mode and break into homes of the neighbors to steal frozen pizzas and other food for dinner. He was eating like a teenager would, but his appetite for theft was growing.

Stealing wasn’t tough on the island because there was almost no crime, and most people didn’t lock their doors. Harris-Moore loved the rush of breaking into people’s homes and the risk of being caught. Over time, his appetite grew from stealing dinner to having free rein to steal whatever he wanted in wealthy homes, which gave him a taste of middle class life that he never experienced.

Harris-Moore stole everything from electronics to camping gear. He also made himself at home when he broke into these homes by doing his laundry, taking a shower, watching TV, and cooking for himself. When a home owner came back to their property, Harris-Moore simply just broke into another house.

Harris-Moore’s bold break-ins didn’t go unnoticed from law enforcement, and people began to lock their doors, which is something this small community wasn’t used to doing.

When the break-ins were happening, neighbors were looking after each other, and once they spotted activity in a home that was supposed to be empty, they knew it was Harris-Moore. Police officers from three different jurisdictions surrounded the house Harris-Moore was in and asked him to come out peacefully.

Harris-Moore was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention center, and after several months of perfect behavior, he was transferred to a minimum security halfway house. He only had less than a year to serve there, but he decided that was too long and one night he crawled out a window and escaped.

Once Harris-Moore was on the run, there was no going back for him. He moved to Orcas Island, which is 20 to 30 miles north from his old stomping ground and 10 times better than Camano. Orcas Island had mountains, and he could run up a mountain to get away from police.

Shortly after Harris-Moore arrived in Orcas Island, burglaries started happening. He also developed a new name for himself, “The Barefoot Bandit.” He was called the Barefoot Bandit because he would kick doors in with dirty footprints.

Along with his new catchy name, Harris-Moore took pictures and left a snapshot at one of his crime scenes. Every news story ran the picture, and this became the iconic image of Colton Harris-Moore.

One day, a deputy found Harris-Moore and chased him into the woods and all the sudden the Barefoot Bandit was gone, then in a singing voice, he said, “You can’t catch me.”

While being a fugitive, Harris-Moore didn’t forget his boyhood love of planes and researched how to fly a plane. He broke into Vern’s Restaurant and used a credit card and ordered “How to Fly,” which is a flight simulator.

When the opportunity presented itself, Harris-Moore took advantage and stole a plane, and unfortunately, the pilot left the keys in the plane. From only computer lessons and tips from books, Harris-Moore was solo on his first flight. While in the air, Harris-Moore said he had an out-of-body and religious experience, according to Holtz.

Here is a kid who came from nothing, and he got behind the wheel of an airplane, something he dreamed of doing, and he attempted to fly over the cascade mountains, flying as high as 10,000 feet.

 Actual 911 Call:

“911 Operator: 911 what’s your emergency?
Woman: I have a stolen aircraft!
911 Operator: Mm, Okay. Do you have the aircraft, or is it stolen from?
Woman: It’s stolen from bay view!”

After landing in an open field, Harris-Moore ditched the plane, and for eight months was untraceable.

In 2009, the police set up a trap in an Orcas Island home, and they traced Harris-Moore to where he stolen and used a credit card to order a cell phone, knowing the Barefoot Bandit would be back to pick up the package when it arrived. Harris-Moore eventually arrived at the home where the stakeout was, but it felt wrong to him and he left. By the time the cops reacted, Harris-Moore ran off into the woods.

This was around the time the news media and people around the world were paying attention. For instance, people decided to start a Colton Harris-Moore fan page on Facebook. He was an outlaw, and all the sudden people can “Like” him, and the police never seen anything like this before.

Law enforcement were embarrassed by this thieving teenager’s exploits being splashed across the national news, and the feds sent additional help to catch Harris-Moore. Suddenly, it wasn’t just local authorities that were hunting for him, it was the world, according to Holtz.

According to Friel, Homeland Security, Blackhawk Helicopters were hovering overhead and S.W.A.T. teams were coming in. FBI tactical teams were coming into this island where nothing ever happens.

One day, a phone call from a woman confirmed a campsite of Harris-Moore, which was elaborate with tarps, sleeping bags and supplies.

For more than a year, Harris-Moore fled authorities and when the police finally got close, he raised the stakes and changed the game by stealing a .22-caliber pistol. Things became more dangerous for Harris-Moore and the police when he decided to steal a gun.

Harris-Moore eluded local cops, the FBI and vigilante bounty hunters, and now his escapades have escalated to armed robbery. He was now considered armed and dangerous and went back to Orcas Island and immediately robbed a local food store.

While he was there, he stole food, but he also took the time to draw 39-bare footprints going up-and-down the aisles of the grocery store. Before leaving the store, Harris-Moore wrote, “C-Ya!”

This was a real message that he was coming into his own as the Barefoot Bandit, and he wanted the world to know, according to Holtz. Harris-Moore was upping the ante and taunting the police by leaving big footprints on the ground and writing, “catch me if you can.”

Washington State wasn’t big enough for the Barefoot Bandit so he stole a car and headed east. He traveled from the Pacific Northwest to Indiana, and this is where he committed his biggest crime. The Barefoot Bandit found a small plane when the nation was getting ready to celebrate Independence Day. He was ready to go on his most ambitious flight ever.

Harris-Moore flew all the way to the Bahamas, and he took his road show international. On this flight, the Barefoot Bandit ran into some serious complications because he was low on fuel and places to land.

People in the Bahamas saw the plane coming in and flying around in circles. Harris-Moore finally brought the plane down and clash landed, survived and ran for cover before authorities showed up. For seven days, he was hiding out and when he came out of hiding, he stole a boat and some people recognized him.

Harris-Moore told them, “Call the cops! I want them to chase me.”

The Bahamas law enforcement chased him on boats, and the Barefoot Bandit got stuck in a sandbar, which enabled the police to catch up to him, so he jumped into the ocean and made a break towards the beach.

The police were on land waiting for Harris-Moore and told him to put his gun down. The Barefoot Bandit lifted his gun and put it to his head threatening to kill himself. The police decided to end this once and for all and they tackled him and put him in handcuffs. 

Colton Harris-Moore pled guilty to seven federal charges and dozens of local ones, and he threw himself at the mercy of the court. He wrote a heartfelt letter to the court, apologizing to his victims and to the state. The judge heard him and took that into consideration, and called him “a triumph of the human spirit.”

The judge gave the Barefoot Bandit a lenient sentence of seven years in prison and he agreed to sell his life story to Hollywood, using the million-dollar fee to pay restitution to his victims.

Colton Harris-Moore was asked by a police officer what was he going to do once he got out of jail, and the Barefoot Bandit responded by saying he was going to become a pilot.

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