What-ifs make Web cheers for Colton Harris-Moore chilling

So this guy called Kowalski hops into a muscle car and outruns cops on a wild ride from Denver to San Francisco.

A disc jockey follows the outlaw driver’s progress across four states, making on-air radio comments about this last American hero. Doomed, the mythic driver smiles as he races to his death at a roadblock made of bulldozers — with a news crew and bystanders watching.

It’s a movie, OK? It’s “Vanishing Point,” a 1971 road flick starring a Dodge Challenger.

In real life, people who elude law enforcement while committing crimes and putting other people’s lives in peril are not heroes. You wouldn’t know that by reading online reactions to news reports of Colton Harris-Moore.

The 19-year-old’s story resurfaced Sunday when a stolen sport-fishing boat was found drifting between Hat Island and the southern tip Camano Island. Harris-Moore grew up on Camano, where a spree of burglaries began. He’s now suspected in dozens of burglaries and thefts that include small airplanes and boats.

Herald reporter Jackson Holtz wrote Monday that the Lopez Island theft of the 30-foot boat found Sunday came a day after a smaller boat was taken from San Juan Island. That smaller boat was recovered on Lopez. Orcas Island was the hot spot earlier this spring, when Harris-Moore was the target of a manhunt involving the FBI and Snohomish County deputies.

The teen on the run is now at the eye of a storm of attention, from police to pop-culture mavens. What if the worst happened?

If, indeed, the young thief left that boat near where it was found, it’s not hard to imagine it was done in darkness. Let’s say an unsuspecting father was out off Hat Island with his children in the wee hours, headed to a favorite fishing spot. What if that hypothetical dad didn’t see the stolen boat? What if he slammed into it, and his family was lost in the frigid water?

What would Harris-Moore hero worshipers have to say then? As of Tuesday, there were 21,305 members of the Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club on Facebook. The page’s administrator didn’t respond to my messages, so I have no idea how that person would handle what looks to me like tragedy waiting to happen.

Anyone — including the young suspect — can read online remarks addressed directly to a teen who was running afoul of the law by age 12. I wouldn’t want my name and face attached to these comments, found on the Facebook fan page Tuesday: “Go man, go!!” “love you man keep running high and jumping fast” and “Colt, steal a ROCKET next!!”

Last October, after Harris-Moore was suspected of stealing and crash-landing three planes, his mother Pam Kohler was quoted by the Associated Press as saying “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes — I would be so proud.”

That’s enough to make this mother cry for a lost boy, a kid who surely had little chance even before his first crime.

One stolen Cessna was found damaged and out of fuel in the Granite Falls area. And if that plane had gone down in a school playground? And if children had been killed? How proud would fans believing Harris-Moore did the deed be then? The Internet silliness, with names attached, would undoubtedly live on after any tragedy.

Washington state criminal law, in a chapter called “Principles of Liability,” includes this bit of legalese: “A person is an accomplice of another person in the commission of a crime if: (a) With knowledge that it will promote or facilitate the commission of the crime, he solicits, commands, encourages or requests such other person to commit it.”

Simply posting online kudos about a teen suspect won’t land anybody behind bars. Those Facebook fans are just having fun. And how can our imaginations not be captured by a lone teen who outwits law enforcement again and again?

Still, in all that encouragement, I do see some complicity. As his infamy grows, will a troubled young man be more or less apt to turn himself in?

No one knows the ending of the Colton Harris-Moore story. It’s not a movie, not yet. It’s real, and really dangerous.

When reckless acts threaten lives, let’s not stand up and cheer.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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