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.
The Latest on Colt
Read breaking news on the search for Colt on Bob Friel's blog, outlawsandoutcasts.
When the Island County sheriff's deputies failed to quickly recapture Colt, some locals considered taking matters into their own hands. Joshua Flickner, whose family owns the Elger Bay Grocery, remembers Colt from the time he was a kid, and describes the "evil" in his eyes. Flickner says the crime that sent Colt into the woods for the first time happened at his store. "We had him on the security camera emptying our ATM using a stolen credit card four or five days in a row. That woman was his first identity-theft victim, and she was just in here. I've talked to dozens of his victims. You don't see the victims. All he's doing is hurting people financially, psychologically, he's hurting people, yet here we are putting him on a pedestal, glorifying him, idolizing him. He's got a Facebook site...I want to vomit, OK?"
Flickner went to Sheriff Brown about forming a posse to comb the Camano woods, but the offer was declined.
Up here in San Juan County, Sheriff Bill Cumming is also surprised Colt hasn't been caught. "Burglary, burglary, commercial burglary, burglary, commercial burglary, commercial burglary..." Cumming runs down a long, long list of felonies almost all of them on Orcas that he believes Colt may have committed. "We've processed all of these crime scenes, and some we're sure was him; others may go nowhere because the suspect wore gloves...others, maybe he'll tell us about them someday."
With a criminology degree from UC Berkeley, an easy laugh, and a visage that's part Gene Hackman and part Jimmy Buffett, the 61-year-old Cumming hits the right tone as sheriff of the laid-back San Juans; he's held the job for 24 years. He doesn't believe Colt committed every unsolved crime on his books, but he also doesn't think his department knows yet the extent of his activities.
For most of Colt's time on the lam, Cumming reminds me, the feds and others haven't been involved; it's just been too few underfunded deputies tasked with shaking a few million bushes. He offers a "no comment" when I ask him about a rumor I heard around the bonfire that one of his deputies had been sitting in an Orcas home when Colt came to pick up a package he'd ordered online. The story goes that by the time the cop got out of his chair, Colt had leapt off the porch without touching the stairs and vanished into the trees. Like the Island County sheriff's department, Cumming's guys have had Colt in their grasp there just weren't enough hands there at the time to hold on. On September 13, 2009, Orcas deputies got close enough during a foot pursuit to positively identify Colt, but he danced away. "We could hear him laughing," one deputy involved in the chase told me. Colt ran through a churchyard and into the woods, circling around to Brandt's Landing, where he stole a boat and rode off into the sunrise, escaping to Point Roberts, on the mainland.
What happens once they do catch him? "There are no easy answers," says Cumming. "We arrest people we're not social workers and from an enforcement point of view, the longer we can lock him away, at least we know he's not committing more crimes during that time. However, any thoughtful person who looks at long-term protection issues knows that this person will come back to the community and who do you want to come back?"
A local woman who spent years as a crisis worker counseling at-risk youth, and who asked to remain anonymous, says she believes "Colt didn't intend for all this to happen. It's gotten away from him now." She met Colt when he was about 14 and had been sentenced to serve a week of community service at the park where she works. She says Colt showed up without food or anything to drink but had to work full days outdoors. "I fed him, gave him water, and he was just so very grateful." Colt worked hard sawing and hauling wood, pulling weeds, and cutting brush, she says, and was very smart, showing a "ridiculous amount" of knowledge about the local plants.
Colt, she says, wasn't anything like the extreme cases she's seen. "He really struck me as a good-hearted kid who'd always been looked at with negative expectations and didn't have a lot of motivation to feel good about his life. Yet when given an opportunity, I mean he just worked his butt off. How is it possible," she wonders, "that all these groups of people and systems in place miss children like this, over and over again?"