MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas – A wily teenage thief who hopscotched his way across the U.S. and escaped in a stolen plane to the Bahamas lived up to his legend Wednesday, eluding a manhunt after allegedly committing a new series of break-ins on a normally quiet island.
Bahamian police interviewed burglary victims while searching for Colton Harris-Moore on sun-speckled Great Abaco Island days after the fugitive who has been dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” crash-landed the plane and made his way to shore.
His arrival coincided with an annual regatta that may make it easy for him to blend in among the crowds of visiting tourists.
A Royal Bahamian Police Force bulletin warned that the 19-year-old 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.
Bar and restaurant owner Alistair McDonald said he was one of the thief’s latest victims.
McDonald said surveillance video captured the suspect inside his establishment in Great Abaco’s Marsh Harbour before dawn Tuesday. 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 because he left without stealing anything, not even a bottle of water. He gave the tape to police.
Assistant Police Commissioner Glenn 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 is small, but its dense clusters of trees provide good cover for a proven outdoorsman like Harris-Moore.
Police scoured the island for the lanky teen, who is 6-foot-5 but still has a boyish face that has led some to compare him to the Leonardo DiCaprio character in the film “Catch Me If You Can.”
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.
Harris-Moore grew up in the woods of Camano Island in Puget Sound about 30 miles 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 when a neighbor noticed the lights on. But he did well enough at the detention center that he was transferred to a halfway house, where he sneaked out of an open window more than two years ago.
He has since been linked to dozens of burglaries, including several airplane thefts. During the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a plane that may have been stolen by Harris-Moore skirted a flight zone set up for the event. It never entered restricted airspace during its erratic journey, helping the pilot evade authorities.
He was pinned with the nickname “Barefoot Bandit” for allegedly committing some crimes while shoeless.