Camano Island teen thief in new caper?

GRANITE FALLS — Colton Harris-Moore, the Camano Island teenage fugitive, is suspected in a new criminal escapade that may have stretched from British Columbia, across an international boundary into Idaho and to the scene of a small-plane crash near Mount Pilchuck.

Police on Friday were investigating whether a plane that crashed in a clear cut near Granite Falls may have been piloted by the teen. It was stolen from a northern Idaho airport Tuesday and discovered Thursday by a logger.

A trail of stolen cars leads from British Columbia to the airport near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where the plane was stolen. Police last thought Harris-Moore was near Point Roberts, just south of Vancouver, B.C.

“We don’t have anything other than his method of operating to indicate that it’s him,” Boundary County Idaho Sheriff’s detective Dave McClelland said. “The methods are very similar.”

Harris-Moore’s mother said she doesn’t know if he is behind the plane theft.

“I just wish he would wear a parachute,” Pam Kohler said.

Until forensic evidence including DNA and fingerprints can be analyzed, police will not know for certain if the 18-year-old stole the Cessna 182 found damaged on the flanks of Mount Pilchuck.

“I don’t want to say that he is our suspect,” McClelland said. “It could be anybody.”

Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives along with FBI investigators and officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were collecting evidence from the plane and the woods surrounding the wreckage.

The plane is valued at more than $500,000. It appears whoever piloted it walked away from the crash, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

“It was obvious that it was a hard landing, but it looked like it was something that someone could survive,” Hover said.

Connecting the theft to named suspects at this point is merely speculation, she said.

Two other planes that authorities believe Harris-Moore took were put down in hard landings. One plane was found in Yakima, the other on Orcas Island.

The teenager has been a fugitive since April 2008, when he escaped a Renton group home. He doesn’t have formal flight training, his mother said.

Detectives believe the boy studied aeronautics on the Internet and from flight manuals. Flight experts said the teen likely had help from an experienced pilot. It is about 400 miles from Bonners Ferry to Granite Falls.

Harris-Moore’s mother said she hasn’t heard from him recently and doesn’t have control over her son.

“I always figured the cops would kill him,” Kohler said, adding if the teen dies, then “that would be what is supposed to happen.”

Officials in San Juan County believe Harris-Moore stole the same make and model of plane as the one found Thursday. The previous theft was for a trip from Orcas Island to Yakima last fall.

Then last month, Harris-Moore allegedly stole an experimental plane from Friday Harbor and piloted it to a hard landing on Orcas. From there officials believe the boy sailed a stolen boat to Point Roberts, the tiny Whatcom County peninsula that hugs the Canadian border.

A series of burglaries at homes and businesses are the bread-crumb trail authorities are using to pin the crime spree to the 6-foot-2 teen.

Harris-Moore’s criminal history dates back to when he was 12. His reputation grew with his age on Camano Island, where he’s believed to have broken into vacation homes, stealing items, eating food and sleeping on sofas.

He was captured in February 2007, convicted of burglary and sentenced to serve three years. He escaped before his sentence was up.

Now, he could be facing federal charges.

Taking stolen property across state lines is a federal offense, FBI special agent Fred Gutt said.

There’s currently no federal warrant for the teen’s arrest, Gutt said.

The teenager developed a reputation on Camano Island. Every time a home was burglarized or a car stolen, neighbors blamed Colton, his mother said.

Recent talk about Harris-Moore’s alleged penchant for flight has raised a similar speculation, she said.

“Now every plane that gets stolen is going to be blamed on him,” she said.

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