- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

SEATTLE | Colton Harris-Moore is 18, but he already is achieving folk-hero status as the Barefoot Bandit in the U.S. and Canada after a string of burglaries and daredevil escapes from the law.

Romanticized by some as a latter-day Billy the Kid figure but regarded by others as a common thief, Mr. Harris-Moore has a criminal record stretching back to when he was just 12 and displayed a penchant for kicking off his shoes before fleeing.

A Hollywood producer wants to make a movie of Mr. Harris-Moore’s life and compared him to Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the film “Catch Me If You Can.”

Caught in 2007 and sentenced to detention in a halfway house near Seattle, the teenager from Camano Island, north of Seattle, escaped the following year, and his legend began to grow.

Shortly after breaking out, he was being pursued while driving a stolen Mercedes-Benz near his mother’s home when he jumped from the moving vehicle and ran into the woods, leaving police with a wrecked car filled with loot.

Among stolen possessions recovered was a digital camera the fugitive used to take a self-portrait. The photograph, complete with self-assured smirk, has become the public face of a teenage robber who has now become an Internet idol.

Burglaries continued on Camano Island, and while Mr. Harris-Moore remained out of sight, police and neighbors were sure he was the person behind the thefts. Within months he was suspected of more than 50 burglaries across three counties.

For the next year, Mr. Harris-Moore, a 6-foot-5 giant who obviously stands out in a crowd, was a ghost as far as the police were concerned.

Then, in September, on the remote San Juan Islands that straddle the watery border between Washington state and Canada’s Vancouver Island, he was spotted on a surveillance tape during an attempted robbery.

While stealing $2,500 from the ATM machine of another business the same night, he cut himself, leaving traces of blood that were matched to his DNA.

Much to the consternation of police, his re-emergence captured the public’s imagination with more tales of his uncanny ability to outmaneuver the authorities.

A San Juan County sheriff’s deputy said he nearly caught Mr. Harris-Moore in the woods. He said he had him in his flashlight before the suspect “virtually vaporized in front of me.”

The deputy recalled hearing him laughing loudly from the woods when he realized he had eluded him.

The Barefoot Bandit legend took on a new dimension in October when a private plane crashed near the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. It had been stolen in Idaho, near where a rash of burglaries had occurred.

Searchers never found the pilot, but a few days later, an intruder was reported at a nearby home. When police arrived, the burglar ran into the woods and fired a gun at them.

They never found the burglar, but investigators found bare footprints leading up to the door and inside the Idaho hangar where the stolen plane had been stored.

Mr. Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Koehler, didn’t doubt her son could be a pilot if he wanted to be.

“He’s smart. He took an IQ test a few years ago, and he’s three points below Einstein,” she said. “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes - I would be so proud.”

Mr. Harris-Moore has a cult following, including a fan club on social networking site Facebook, and a Seattle man has even started selling T-shirts bearing his picture alongside the words “Momma Tried.”

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