Manhunt widens for teen fugitive

SEATTLE — The notorious Camano Island fugitive some call the “Barefoot Bandit” was again the focus of a manhunt on a small island Tuesday after he allegedly crashed another stolen plane.

This time, though, Colton Harris-Moore, 19, was being sought on the white sand cays of the Bahamas, more than 3,500 miles away from his home.

FBI officials say he is wanted in connection with the theft of a plane from Indiana that somebody flew roughly 1,200 miles and crashed Sunday off Abaco, a small island west of Miami.

Authorities also made public Tuesday that Harris-Moore has for six months been sought for arrest under a federal complaint charging him with the theft of another Cessna. That plane was stolen Sept. 29, 2009, from Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Its wreckage was found Oct. 1 in a clear-cut outside Granite Falls.

Police at the time found bare footprints at some of a string of crimes from Washington through British Columbia to Idaho, and then back to Washington, court papers said.

An FBI agent said that evidence reflected Harris-Moore’s reputation for committing burglaries on Camano Island without shoes.

Inside the wreckage of the plane, investigators found more conclusive evidence: Harris-Moore’s DNA.

The federal complaint was filed in December and unsealed Tuesday as FBI officials announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Harris-Moore’s arrest.

Information about the FBI’s involvement came from a press release issued by the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas. Officials there on Tuesday said they believe Harris-Moore is the pilot of the stolen plane that splashed down Sunday.

“We want to get him. He’s turned from a regional nuisance into an international problem, if that is in fact him,” FBI Special Agent Steven Dean said Tuesday.

Harris-Moore has long been a thorn in the side of law enforcement in Washington state. As a child on Camano Island he was often in trouble with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

He escaped a Seattle-area group home in April 2008 where he was serving a three-year sentence for a series of burglaries. Since then he’s allegedly been on an crime spree, suspected of stealing nearly $3 million in property from locations across the U.S., Canada, and now the Bahamian Commonwealth.

In the past two years, at least 65 criminal investigations have been launched listing Harris-Moore as the primary suspect, according to the complaint. The cases include residential and commercial burglaries, vehicle prowls and thefts, assaults on law enforcement officials and aircraft thefts.

The more than five dozen crimes don’t include the offenses that Harris-Moore allegedly has committed since he started his cross-country trip last month.

Police say that evidence shows that on June 1, Harris-Moore slipped across the Columbia River into Oregon on a stolen pleasure boat. From there a trail of stolen vehicles, thefts and burglaries leads through Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and into Indiana.

Police near Bloomington, Ind., already were suspicious that Harris-Moore was there when they were called to investigate a stolen car from Illinois that was abandoned in their town. Then someone broke into the Monroe County Airport late Saturday or early Sunday and stole a Cessna 400 Corvallis from a locked hangar, officials said.

“That’s the Porsche of the single-engine airplanes,” said Jan Sawyer, a flight instructor in Memphis, Tenn. “It’s the fastest fixed-gear aircraft.”

The plane, valued at about $650,000, can reach top speeds of nearly 270 mph. Its range is more than 1,200 miles, about the distance from Bloomington to the Bahamas, where officials found the plane nose-down in about 3 feet of water.

The pilot likely would have faced several challenges along the flight path, including finding the optimal mixture of fuel and air, plus navigating near restricted airspace, Sawyer said. Several large commercial airports, military bases and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral require pilots to follow strict rules, she said.

The plane was abandoned about six miles off the shore of small island in the Bahamian archipelago. The water there is only about 3 feet deep. A pilot such as Harris-Moore, with a history of hard landings, may have chosen to ditch at sea rather than try to put the fast plane down on a small landing strip, Sawyer said.

“He either has a load of courage, a whole lot of stupidity or a whole lot of both,” she said.

About 11 hours after the plane crash-landed, a home was burglarized and a vehicle parked there was stolen, Bahamian police told the Bloomington (Indiana) Herald-Times.

That fits Harris-Moore’s pattern. U.S. Embassy officials alerted Bahamian police that he could be on the loose, said Glenn Anthony Miller, assistant commissioner with the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

When police examined the plane’s wreckage, they did not find anybody, or any signs of injury, Miller said.

“We suspect that maybe the individual is a good swimmer, or the water may not have been that deep,” he said.

Harris-Moore is about 6 feet, 5 inches tall.

The Bahamas, low-lying coral formations off the Florida coast, are known as a vacation paradise. The islands also harbor more than 60 airports, according to federal records.

Should Harris-Moore be arrested in the Bahamas, he can be extradited to the United States under a 1990 treaty, said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.

If convicted of one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, Harris-Moore would face a maximum of 10 years in a federal penitentiary, fines and up to three years of supervised release. He also faces state charges in Washington and Nebraska.

The Bloomington Herald-Times contributed to this story. Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437,

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