The cops claim Colt has “vaporized,” “vanished,” and “ran like lightning.” When the posse does close in, he allegedly rustles luxury cars, boats, and even planes.
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The police believe it, though. Once past the violent updrafts, the kid flew on until 11 A.M, when he attempted to land in a scrub field on the Yakama Indian Reservation about 300 miles from where he took off. The Cessna came in hot and hit hard, bouncing back into the air before impacting again and nosediving into a gulley, the propeller blades tearing up the earth. The pilot trashed the plane, but he walked or ran away, the minimum test of a successful landing. When police got to the scene, they found the cockpit splattered in puke. Other than bits of his breakfast, though, the pilot left no trace and disappeared into the woods.
Before he was suspected of stealing the plane, the kid had been just Colton Harris-Moore, high-school dropout, juvenile delinquent, and petty thief who sometimes left bare footprints at crime scenes. After he climbed out of the Cessna and disappeared in the wilds of Washington State home of Sasquatch, D.B. Cooper, Twin Peaks, and Twilight he became Colt, latest in a long line of gutsy outlaws to capture the world's imagination.
WHEN YOU LOOK at the facts, it's easy to understand why he's garnered so much attention: His name is Colt, carrying the gunslinging resonance of the Wild West. He's escaped a jail (albeit a baby jail) and evaded several sheriffs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and even the FBI for 20 months. He's underdogging it alone in the Northwest wilderness, yet he's followed by bloggers and Facebookers worldwide, the modern equivalent of yesteryear's sensationalized dime-novel hero. During his many close calls, the cops claim Colt has "vaporized," "vanished," and "ran like lightning." When the posse does close in, he allegedly rustles luxury cars, boats, and even planes. And something no one's mentioned is that one of his hideouts on Orcas Island, Madrona Point, is an honest-to-God, can't-make-this-stuff-up ancient Indian burial ground. Hell yeah, this looks like the birth of an outlaw legend.
"Colton was first suspected of theft in 2001, when he was ten years old," says Detective Ed Wallace, of the Island County sheriff's department, which has been chasing Colt almost constantly ever since. Born March 22, 1991, the young outlaw tended toward the childish in his criminal tooth-cutting petty thefts and malicious mischief. Classmates remember him and a couple of cronies getting busted for breaking into their school, Stanwood Middle, located in mainland Snohomish County just across the bridge from Camano Island, where Colt lived with his mom in a single-wide. By December 2003 Colt had accumulated eight incident reports at school for theft and vandalism, among other infractions, resulting in multiple suspensions. According to Snohomish County court records, when confronted by the principal, Colt said he "could not stop stealing and didn't know why." In sixth grade, the kids at school began calling him Klepto Colt.
Christa Postma, one of his former classmates, says that while Colt was always getting into trouble, he was "a nice kid" and "seemed really smart, though he didn't know how to put that into his schoolwork." The two of them would hang outside the Stanwood Library after school, and that's where, she says, Colt met up with a future accomplice, a guy two years older, with the rebel-ready handle Harley Davidson Ironwing. "When Colt wasn't around Harley, he'd be totally chill," she says. "When Harley showed up, Colt would suddenly be all, I'm so big and bad." Ironwing, who's serving time in Washington Corrections Center, recently talked to an Everett Herald reporter for a story subtitled "Harley Davidson Ironwing says he trained Colton Harris-Moore how to survive by stealing."
By the age of 15, Colt had been to juvie more times than most kids his age had been to McDonald's. When not in detention, he often lived under a sentence of community service. In 2006, as soon as he finished one stretch at the Denny Youth Center, in Everett, police were already poised to arrest him for crimes they'd investigated while he was away. That July, one day before he was due in court, Colt disappeared into the hinterlands of Camano Island.
Roughly 70 percent of Camano remains wooded primarily thick stands of cedar and maple with a soft sea of waist-high ferns filling the understory. From the road, you can't see past the first line of trees, and even when you hike in, the exuberant growth means you'd literally have to stumble onto anyone who kept a low-profile camp. No matter how lush, though, living off the land is harder than it sounds and always dirtier, smellier, and hungrier. Going into the wild killed Christopher McCandless in Alaska. Eric Rudolph the anti-abortion Olympic Park bomber was finally nabbed when he slithered out of the Appalachian boonies to go dumpster diving for food. Tramping through Camano's many parks and preserves that butt against residents' backyards, Colt came up with an idea that remains his identifying M.O.: When your ecosystem is a vacation destination, the vacationers lie at the bottom of the food chain. Instead of camping full-time, he began breaking into Camano's 1,000-plus holiday homes many of them empty much of the time to shower, forage for food, and sleep.
Ever the opportunist, Colt found that, along with cans of tuna, people leave all kinds of property in their weekend homes. He helped himself to laptops, cash, jewelry, camcorders, cell phones, a telescope, a GPS unit, iPods, radio-controlled toys like boats and a helicopter, and a Trek mountain bike. There's not much evidence that he pawned the loot, just collected it. Sometimes the homeowners left behind credit cards. Another Colt innovation: Simply punch in those numbers online and you get custom burglary, with overnight delivery of such on-the-lam necessities as bear mace, aviation magazines, a police scanner, and "evidence eraser" software. This was a risky escalation, though, because Colt now had to return to the scene of the crime to collect his packages once they'd been delivered.