MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas - A wily teenage thief who hopscotched his way across the U.S. and escaped in a stolen plane to the Bahamas lived up to his legend Wednesday, eluding a manhunt after allegedly committing a new series of break-ins on a normally quiet island.
Bahamian police interviewed burglary victims while searching for Colton Harris-Moore on sun-speckled Great Abaco Island days after the fugitive, who has been dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit,” crash-landed the plane and made his way to shore.
His arrival coincided with an annual regatta that may make it easy for him to blend in among the crowds of visiting tourists.
A Royal Bahamian Police Force bulletin warned that the 19-year-old should be considered “armed and dangerous.” Back in the U.S., he has become a folk hero of sorts, with a fan club hawking T-shirts emblazoned with his image, songs and tens of thousands of followers on Facebook.
Service station owner Dwight Pinder said he is one of the thief’s latest victims. Pinder said his shop on the southern tip of Great Abaco was burglarized Sunday night, shortly after the crash in a nearby marsh. The thief stole a Gatorade and two packets of potato chips, leaving a bundle of food and drinks on the counter — a sign he apparently left in a rush.
Pinder told The Associated Press that the thief was so skilled that he didn’t even scratch the lock he picked.
A nearby house was also burglarized, with the thief making off with a brown Chevrolet Tahoe that was later found abandoned in the town of Marsh Harbor.
Assistant Police Commissioner Glenn Miller said Harris-Moore is a suspect in the burglary of at least seven homes and businesses on Great Abaco, the largest of dozens of small islands and cays that are a part of the sprawling Bahamas archipelago east of Florida. The island is small, but its dense clusters of trees provide good cover for a proven outdoorsman like Harris-Moore.
Police scoured the island for the lanky teen, who is 6-foot-5. National Security Minister Tommy Turnquest said local authorities were working with the FBI, which posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to Harris-Moore’s capture.
Assistant Superintendent Hulan Hanna said police believed the fugitive was still on Abaco.
“We have taken steps to neutralize the areas he may try to use to leave the island,” Hanna said. “We have been talking to people on the ground, we have distributed fliers featuring his photo throughout the island.”
Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore’s mother, said she wasn’t surprised her son might be able to make the 1,000-mile flight to the Bahamas after teaching himself how to fly.
She has publicly defended her son, and claims the allegations against him are exaggerated. She told The Associated Press she would have preferred he fled to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States.
“The furthest he gets from the U.S., the better,” she said from her home on Camano Island in Washington state. “I’m glad he’s able to enjoy beautiful islands, but they extradite. It doesn’t help matters at all.”
Kohler said she is worried about his safety.
“Colt is not to be flying a single-engine plane,” she insisted, saying she was worried about engine failure. “When I heard that, that just upset me. The rules are he carries a parachute with him and he takes two-engine planes. Tell him he needs to call me.”