‘Fly, Colton, Fly’: Harris-Moore’s troubled youth

Second in a series of excerpts from “Fly, Colton, Fly,” a new book about Colton Harris-Moore by Herald writer Jackson Holtz. For part 1, click here. For part 3, click here.

From Chapte

r 1

For 60 years the Mark Clark Bridge had spanned the shallow tidal waters of Davis Slough between Stanwood and Camano Island. Built in 1949 and named for a World War II general, the bridge provided the only access to this remote community.

In earlier days, a swing bridge connected the island to the rest of western Washington. Bert Lawson was the first bridge tender and he lived with his family in a little house on the east end of the bridge, the mainland side. He kept a keen eye open for steamers and listened for the blast of their horns. As a boat approached, Lawson would swing the bridge open to let the vessels pass. The Mark Clark put Lawson out of business. The bridge stayed open until August 17, 2010, when it was replaced by the Camano Gateway Bridge, a utilitarian span built to better carry the thousands of cars and trucks that cross it daily. A month later, the Mark Clark was demolished.

The shift from one concrete roadway to another was met with enthusiasm but didn’t much change the lives of the island’s 14,000 permanent residents. For the most part, their routines stayed intact, save for perhaps fewer traffic jams when the bridge was closed down due to a car wreck.

Since the new bridge opened, Camano Island’s most infamous resident had yet to cross it. Colton Harris-Moore, the boy who forced islanders to lock their doors and to fear the quiet rustle of leaves in the woods, was arrested weeks before the Mark Clark closed. He was in a secure federal detention center as summer changed to fall and the persistent rains returned to western Washington.

The Mark Clark was never much of an obstacle for Colton. He made his way on and off Camano Island with ease. Unlike the more exclusive San Juan Islands, Camano Island makes a more accessible weekend vacation destination. In the summer, the island population swells to around 20,000 as people flee the city suburbs, or return from winter homes in Arizona and Southern California…

Camano Island is a mostly quiet community filled with its own peculiar set of artists, retirees and people who prefer the privacy and silence the woods can offer. Camano is home to the Crochet Liberation Front, a group of crafters whose radical notion is to seek global domination with needle and stitch. Painters and glassmakers seek refuge here along with aging hippies, some of whom make up the South End String Band. During Colton’s spree, the jug band wrote a ditty chronicling the teen’s progress. The comical video, complete with reenactments of burglaries, was posted on YouTube and has attracted thousands of viewers. One man created pictorial spoofs of Colton that are displayed at the Tyee Grocery, a tiny general store on Camano’s far south end.

Most of the time this is a peaceful place. It’s an end-of-the-road community. Homes were built along the shoreline and down long, winding dirt driveways, purposefully isolated from neighbors…

For many years, though, a young boy from the south end, Colton Harris-Moore, proved more problematic than bears or other prowling wildlife.

Like a bear, Colton roamed through backyards. At first, the boy was just sniffing out a meal, hunting for survival. But Colton’s appetite grew and he wasn’t satisfied with digging through the garbage. He wanted more. He went through neighbors’ freezers to find a frozen pizza or chicken fingers, any meal he could heat up, victims said. Then, he went through their drawers to find electronics he could steal. He went through their wallets and their computers hunting for credit card numbers and ATM cards he could pilfer. He took their cars, their jewelry, their identities, and their boats.

“It is not just the money value of the items he stole, but the undermining of trust and disturbance of his neighbors; the invasion of their private space,” one couple wrote in a March 2009 letter tucked into Colton’s thick collection of court records. “Harm was done to people even though he left no physical marks to show it.”

From Chapter 11

The latest skirmish with the cops began early in the day. Colton took off into the woods when he saw the police cars pull into the driveway at his mom’s trailer. He knew he was in trouble, but he wasn’t just going to surrender. Colton didn’t do that — ever. The teen bolted when he saw police.

This September morning, the deputies wanted to bring him in on a warrant. It had been months since he blew off a court date and since then he’d been busy breaking into homes and collecting stolen property…

The deputies left, but they weren’t done looking for Colton. They came back to Kohler’s property later the same day. This time Colton hid in the brush. He watched as they barged into his mom’s trailer to clear it and make sure no one was home. He watched as the deputies explored the wooded property, overgrown with blackberry brambles. He watched as they took his dog, Melanie, the beagle mix he loved so much. He watched as they went through his campsite collecting the thousands of dollars’ of stolen stuff. They even took the clothes he had in his tent.

Undersheriff Kelly Mauk, a veteran of the island police force, later would compare the gear found in Colton’s tent with stolen property reports. Every item matched a report. And Mauk took note that the clothes at the tent site clearly belonged to Colton. No other boy he knew was that tall.

There was another piece of evidence found in the camp, one that showed Colton was determined to learn how to fly a plane. There was a flight training magazine that had been delivered to 925 Haven Place, Kohler’s address.

When Kohler arrived home, Colton was long gone. He had left a message for her: “Cops were here. Everythings on lockdown,” he wrote. “I’m leaving 4-Wennachi won’t be back est. 2 month. I’ll contact you.”…

Colton also told his mom that the cops had taken Mel, the dog. He wrote, “I’m going to have my affiliates take care of that.”

Then he added, “P.S. Cops wanna play hu!? Well its not no lil game. . . . It’s war! & tell them that.”

Reprinted from “Fly, Colton, Fly: The True Story of the Barefoot Bandit,” by Jackson Holtz with arrangement from New American Library, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright Jackson Holtz, 2011.

As a member of The Herald’s crime reporting team Jackson Holtz covered Colton Harris-Moore’s story for years. While his daily reporting duties have shifted to feature coverage, he continues to report on Harris-Moore, who is awaiting trial in federal court.

Holtz, 42, earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. He joined The Herald in 2006.

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