The photograph shows a tall, slightly gangly teenager with short brown hair stooping over as he is led into custody by officers of the Bahamas police force with his arms handcuffed behind his back. It takes a second look before the most interesting detail of the picture emerges: his legs are shackled around the ankles, and – most poignantly – his feet are bare.
The image of the chained bare feet, transmitted by news agencies around the world, is the one that Colton Harris-Moore has spent more than two years trying to avoid. Dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit”, he has been on the run since April 2008, leading the FBI on a merry dance across at least five American states, suspected of breaking into scores of houses and stealing aeroplanes and motor boats along the way.
His epic journey took him from Washington state, where he was brought up, through Canada, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Indiana before he allegedly took an illicit plane ride to the Bahamas. Federal agents tracked him with heat-seeking devices, sniffer dogs and helicopters, but Harris-Moore kept one barefoot step ahead, leaving behind him bills amounting to at least m in alleged theft and property damage.
The hunt had a dramatic ending. Bahamas police had been on to him for several days after he was spotted on security cameras appearing to steal food from restaurants, but despite a ,000 reward, it was thought the trail had gone cold. Then, in the small hours of Sunday morning, a security guard at a marina on Harbour Island spotted a tall youth with a knapsack and a gun idling around the boats. He gave chase. Harris-Moore took off, shouting, “They’re after me. They’re after me. They’re going to kill me!”
The teenager gave the guard the slip, roaring off on a 30-foot speed boat that was moored at the marina. Police were alerted and closed in, first shooting out the engine of the boat, which ran aground, and then encircling him.
Harris-Moore reportedly held the gun he was carrying to his head and threatened suicide, but was talked out of it. He also threw his laptop and an iPhone into the water, though they were later recovered and will be used in compiling the case against him. He is now in custody in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and is likely to be brought before a court tomorrow. Several American states are expected to press for his extradition.
News of his arrest was greeted with glee and dismay. The residents of Camano Island, a retirement retreat near Seattle where Harris-Moore grew up, were ecstatic. “He was a thief who violated all of our senses of security in our homes, our businesses,” Laurie Flickner, the owner of Elger Bay Grocery & Cafe, raided several times by the teenager, told the Los Angeles Times.
The dismay was expressed largely by his supporters on the internet, who see him as a persecuted latter-day hero. His Facebook fan page, where he is described as a “real-life 21st century outlaw”, has 76,223 members and counting.
His mother, Pamela Kohler, who still lives on Camano Island, said: “I am very relieved that Colt is now safe. It has been over two-and-a-half years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly.”
There is little doubt that contracts are being finalised for the Barefoot Bandit book, to be followed by the movie.
They will recall how he came from a deprived background, brought up in a caravan on Camano; how his father left the family when he was two; and how he committed his first burglary aged 12.
They will show how he allegedly broke into houses to steal food and clothes, in bare feet, and how sometimes he would even taunt law enforcers by drawing feet in chalk on the floors of the crime scene. They will recall how he taught himself to fly – with internet manuals, it is thought – and how he is said to have stolen at least four planes, the most recent a Cessna that he allegedly took in Indiana and which he used to make the 1,000 mile trip to the Bahamas.
And they will re-enact how he crash-landed on 5 July in a marsh in the Bahamas island of Abaco. But then Harris-Moore always was better at taking off than landing.
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