Beginning in 2007, a troubled teenager from Camano Island captured the nation’s attention as a fugitive who managed to elude police through a daring series of escapades involving stolen cars, boats, and airplanes. Colton Harris-Moore (b. 1991), popularly known as the "Barefoot Bandit" because of his propensity for committing crimes without wearing shoes, became a media sensation and developed a rabid online following. Some hailed him as a modern-day folk hero; others denounced his crimes, citing the enormous amount of property stolen from victims. After two years on the run, Harris-Moore was captured in 2010 after crash-landing a stolen plane in the Bahamas.
Early Years on Camano
Colton Harris-Moore was born at the Skagit Valley Hospital on March 22, 1991, to parents Pamela Kohler and Gordon Moore. His father, who reportedly struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, abandoned the family when Colton was a toddler, leaving Kohler with sole custody. She raised her son on Camano Island, where they struggled financially, living out a meager existence in a ramshackle single-wide trailer. Kohler struggled with alcoholism, resulting in an unstable and often abusive environment. Colton began exhibiting behavioral issues at an early age.
By the age of 7, he was running away from home on a regular basis. He would often spend days at a time out in the nearby forests. As a matter of survival, he started breaking into vacation homes, where he would steal food and various camping supplies. His first conviction for stolen property came at the age of 12, and within a year he had begun serving time at juvenile-detention centers due to even more convictions.
Harris-Moore attended Stanwood Middle School, but was eventually transferred to Lincoln Hill Alternative School (also in Stanwood) due to ongoing disciplinary issues. His school experience at Lincoln Hill went much the same, and by the 9th grade he slowly stopped going to school and eventually dropped out. During this period, Child Protective Services paid several visits to the family residence due to suspected neglect or abuse, and Colton was placed in temporary foster care.
No longer tethered to the public school system, Harris-Moore continued to run afoul of the law, and on July 14, 2006, a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to attend a mandatory court date. Upon learning that he was now wanted by the police, Harris-Moore went on the lam. He set up hidden campsites deep in the Camano Island woods and continued his practice of burglarizing homes for food and supplies. Some of the homes he broke into had computers, which he began accessing in order to teach himself how to steal identities. He would order credit cards in the homeowner’s name, which he would then use to purchase food and high-tech survival gear such as night-vision goggles that helped him stay ahead of the police.
Harris-Moore was captured and arrested on February 9, 2007. He had been on the run for more than six months and was now facing 23 criminal charges, most of which were due to residential burglaries. He made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to three of the crimes, leading to a three-year sentence at Green Hill School, a high-security juvenile detention facility in Chehalis.
Catch Me If You Can
Harris-Moore proved to be a model student-inmate at Green Hill School and was transferred to the Griffin Home Residential Treatment Center on February 14, 2008. Located in Renton, Griffin was a minimum-security halfway home used to transition troubled youths back into society. Many speculated that his exemplary behavior was merely a ruse in order to relocate himself to a place with better escape opportunities. Two months later, on April 29, he proved such theories correct when he slipped through an unlocked window at Griffin Home. A felony warrant was soon issued for his arrest.
After breaking out of Griffin Home, Harris-Moore stole a car and returned to Camano Island, where he resumed his habit of breaking-and-entering in order to steal food and supplies. This time, local authorities were better prepared and mounted an aggressive campaign for his capture. The local media also had taken notice, and news stories soon began appearing about this mysterious teenage outlaw.
On July 18, 2008, the coverage of his ongoing saga received a significant media bump when sheriff’s deputies on Camano Island gave chase to a black Mercedes that had been seen driving erratically. As the police cars closed in, the driver of the Mercedes suddenly jumped out and ran off into the woods. When police searched the Mercedes they found an assortment of stolen credit cards, cell phones, and a digital camera that the driver had used to take some self-portraits. Harris-Moore was quickly identified as the person in the photos, including an image he took of himself in which he is seen lying on his back in the middle of a forest and looking straight up at the camera. The now iconic image was widely disseminated online, resulting in a growing fanbase that began following the details of this ongoing crime saga. By this time, the 17-year-old fugitive had earned a catchy nickname resulting from his habit of committing crimes while barefoot and sometimes leaving footprints behind. Among his growing legion of fans, he was now becoming known as the Barefoot Bandit.
Due to all the legal heat, Harris-Moore decided to escape from Camano Island and used a stolen boat to relocate himself to Orcas Island. Soon after his arrival, in August 2008, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office began receiving an increasing number of burglary reports, causing widespread alarm throughout the small island community. Things reached such a critical level that on October 2, 2008, the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce held a special meeting to address the sudden plague of sophisticated break-ins. Police ramped up efforts to catch the person responsible, who by now was strongly suspected as being Colton Harris-Moore.
On November 12, 2008, Harris-Moore decided to escape the police dragnet that was now set up for him on Orcas Island and stole a Cessna 182 – a single-engine airplane – from a hangar. Despite having no previous aviation experience, he was able to successfully take off from the island and fly 300 miles to the east, where he crash-landed the aircraft on the Yakama Indian Reservation and escaped before authorities could arrive. It is believed that he taught himself to fly from reading aircraft manuals, watching instructional DVDs, and the countless hours he spent playing Microsoft Flight Simulator — a favorite of his since he was a young child. When police searched the plane, a telltale sign of footprints was discovered inside the cockpit, confirming Harris-Moore as the likely suspect.
As it turned out, the stolen Cessna belonged to Bob Rivers, a popular radio host on Seattle station KZOK-FM. Rivers learned of the theft immediately after signing off from his morning radio show. A year later, when Harris-Moore was still on the run, Rivers commented about the incident, telling radio listeners, "I don’t buy this folk-hero stuff ... I was furious that something like this could happen. I really want him caught" ("Radio’s Bob Rivers").
Following the plane heist, Harris-Moore stole a series of cars and stayed on the move, traveling between such places as Reno, Sacramento, and Eastern Washington. While on the run, he had 10 charges filed against him by Island County prosecutors, including identity theft and illegal flight to avoid prosecution.
Returning to Camano Island in May 2009, Harris-Moore resumed his cat-and-mouse games with the Island County Sheriff’s Department. In the early morning hours of June 19, 2009, he broke into a patrol car that was parked in front of a deputy’s house and stole police equipment, including a cell phone, an official-issue police rifle, and a supply of ammunition. In response, the sheriff’s department ramped up efforts to capture the teen outlaw, though by this time, Harris-Moore, now 18, had become quite calculated, careful, and meticulous in his activities. He always managed to stay several steps ahead of law enforcement.
Throughout the summer of 2009, and well into the fall, he continued his pattern of island hopping. On September 11, 2009, he stole his second plane – a Cirrus SR22 – from the San Juan Island public airport and flew it to Orcas Island, landing it on the island’s public airport runway. From there, he stole a boat and sailed to Point Roberts. A path of burglaries then stretched across British Columbia, eventually coming to a stop at Bonners Ferry in northern Idaho.
On September 29, 2009, he broke into a Bonners Ferry airplane hangar and made off with a Cessna 182, his third stolen plane, which he managed to fly 260 miles to the west. Camano Island had been his intended landing site, but the plane ran out of fuel, forcing a crash-landing near Granite Falls. During their investigation of the Idaho airplane hangar, police discovered a telltale set of footprints. Kohler, when asked about the plane theft and her son's involvement, told reporters, "I’m proud of him. I was going to send him to flight school, but I guess I don’t have to" ("On The Trail Of ...").
On October 2, 2009, a new felony warrant for "forced entry burglary" was issued for Harris-Moore’s arrest, followed two months later by a federal arrest warrant, resulting from the theft of the Bonners Ferry airplane. By this time he had become the prime suspect for approximately 100 thefts throughout Washington, Idaho, and Canada, most of which involved cars, airplanes, and speedboats. Undeterred by the charges piling up against him, he commandeered yet another Cirrus SR22 from the Anacortes Airport on February 10, 2010, which he later landed on Orcas Island. The following day, he burglarized a local store, Homegrown Grocery, stealing more than $1,000 in cash. Embracing his nickname, he used chalk to draw a trail of cartoonish-looking feet that snaked up and down the aisles of the store. The footprints ended with a taunting message: "C-Ya."
At this point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had also become involved in the hunt, and several agents were deployed to Orcas Island. Coast Guard cutters patrolled the offshore waters, on the lookout for suspicious watercraft, and a Black Hawk helicopter was flown in to help with manhunt efforts. Again, Harris-Moore was able to escape the island and make it to nearby San Juan Island, where he then piloted a stolen boat back to his home terrain on Camano Island. Soon after, the FBI placed a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the 19-year-old fugitive.
On May 31, 2010, a handwritten note and $100 in cash was found at a veterinary clinic in Raymond. The note read, "Drove by, had some extra cash. Please use this money for the care of animals — Colton Harris-Moore (AKA: The Barefoot Bandit)."
Captured in The Bahamas
In June 2010, Harris-Moore fled the heavy police presence in Washington and made his way across the country in a series of stolen vehicles, making it as far east as Illinois. On July 4, 2010, a Cessna was reported stolen from an airport in Bloomington, Indiana. As was immediately suspected, Harris-Moore was responsible for the plane’s theft. His intended destination was Cuba, due to its lack of extradition treaties with the U.S. government. Harris-Moore used his piloting experience to make it as far as the Bahamas, where he was forced to crash land the plane near Great Abaco Island. After the jagged landing, he found his way to a nearby fishing village, where he survived for several days by stealing food from nearby stores and restaurants.
On July 11, 2010, Harris-Moore was captured just before dawn at Harbour Island, Bahamas. Thanks to a series of tips from local residents, the Bahamian police managed to close in on the famous fugitive after he ran a stolen boat onto a sandbar and became stuck just a short distance from shore. Not taking any chances, the police shot out the boat's engine and ordered him to put his hands in the air. Moore responded by putting a gun to his head and threatening to pull the trigger. He was talked out of it and soon surrendered to authorities.
Two days later, he was extradited from Nassau, Bahamas, to Miami, where was held until July 21, at which point he was transferred to the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. He was held there for the next two years while he faced numerous charges at county, state, and federal levels. After being sentenced to seven years of state prison time, and an additional six years by the Island County Court, he proceeded to Federal District Court in Seattle to face federal charges. On January 27, 2012, a U.S. District Court judge advised Harris-Moore that "it was time for a new life flight plan" ("Colton Harris-Moore AKA ...") and sentenced him to six years in prison. Harris-Moore told the court that he was genuinely remorseful for his crimes, and that when he got out of prison, he planned to work to become an aeronautical engineer. His county, state, and federal prison times were consolidated, and he was transferred to the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen to begin serving a six-year sentence. Soon after reporting to prison, he sold the rights to his life story to 20th Century Fox for $1.4 million, all of which went toward restitution per the terms of his sentencing.
In 2016, his mother Pam was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Given her terminal prognosis, Harris-Moore set up a GoFundMe page, soliciting funds to have his mother’s body cryogenically frozen, with the hope that her body could be later revived and cured of her cancer when technology allowed for such things. "Cryonic preservation is the only solution to save Pam," he wrote on his since-deleted GoFundMe page, where he sought $230,000 for the procedure. His mother died on May 17, 2016. At the time of her death, Harris-Moore had raised only $2,170. Since he hadn’t met his goal, the money was refunded to donors.
On September 2, 2016, Colton Harris-Moore, 25, was released from prison on probation and went to live at a halfway house near Seattle. He took a part-time clerical job with John Henry Browne, the Seattle attorney who had represented him in court.
In December 2016, he started another GoFundMe page, hoping to raise more than $125,000 for flight-school training. As he wrote on his page, "Now I am 25 years old, free, and ready to do it (fly) LEGALLY! I love airplanes, but I will never steal one or break the law again. I broke the law big league when I was younger, but now it’s time to focus on my career and life in the free world." However, despite the $1.4 million he had received from 20th Century Fox (which was used for restitution), he still owed his victims $129,000. As a result, he was ordered to halt fundraising efforts until that balance had been paid. His GoFundMe page had raised $1,600, all of which went to the court-ordered restitution. On his Twitter account, which has since been deleted, Harris-Moore tweeted, "I feel like my dream has been crushed. What a terrible feeling" ("Feds Shut Down ...")
As of the date of this writing [September 2022], his last public appearance occurred in May 2019, when he was interviewed on KTTH 770 in Seattle by conservative radio personality Jason Rantz. During the interview, Harris-Moore reflected on his life, recalling how his lifelong interest in airplanes had resulted in his first memorable flight, back in 2008, when he piloted a stolen Cessna: "It’s this uncontrollable obsession, that’s really what it is ... It’s something that you have dreamt about and waited for your entire life. And out of all the possibilities of that moment, no matter what scenario or situation you could find yourself in, that one moment, you were exactly where you were supposed to be, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel that again. It’s one of those moments that I think you only get once or twice in your entire life" ("Colton Harris-Moore Hopes ...")
Looking to his future, Harris-Moore struck a somewhat pessimistic tone, "I think it’s gonna be difficult to have a normal life. I really do. In fact, I don’t think I’m ever going to have a normal life." Since that interview, he completed his probation and has remained reclusive, erasing all traces of himself on any previously held social media pages. His current whereabouts are unknown.