Barefoot Bandit's hometown happy

2010-07-13 21:31

Camano Island, Washington - Residents of the rural island where the "Barefoot Bandit" first learned to dodge police through thick ferns and cedar trees are lashing out at the teen's mother, saying it wouldn't be right for her to profit off a two-year crime spree that has finally landed him in a Bahamian jail.

Authorities and victims of Colton Harris-Moore, 19, have long suggested that his mother is at least partly to blame for his alleged behaviour - breaking into unoccupied vacation homes and using credit cards that weren't his, stealing cash, cars, boats and even five aircraft.

His first conviction for stolen property came at age 12.

But recent word that she has hired a well-known Seattle entertainment and intellectual property lawyer who has represented the likes of Courtney Love and the father of Jimi Hendrix drew widespread derision here. Many residents assume she's trying to profit from her son's crimes through movies or books.

"Of course she wants the money. She doesn't work", said Joshua Flickner, whose family owns a grocery store on Camano Island.

"What makes me more angry than the fact that she's trying to profit off this is that there's any profit to be had. There shouldn't be a profit - he's a criminal. He's damaged people - average people, middle-class people."

Harris-Moore was due in court on Tuesday in Nassau on suspicion of illegal weapons possession and what officials described as a "litany" of other charges stemming from his week in the Bahamas.

Having apparently made his way across the US in a series of stolen vehicles, he arrived in the Bahamas on July 4 in a aircraft taken from an Indiana airport. He was captured early on Sunday after a high-speed boat chase during which police shot out his motor.

Trespassers will be shot

Prosecutors in the US are also preparing cases against him. He is suspected in about 70 property crimes across eight states and British Columbia, many of them in the bucolic islands of Washington state.

Harris-Moore's mother, Pam Kohler, lives in the trailer where she raised him on Camano Island. It sits deep in thick woods, down a long gravel drive past a spray painted sign warning trespassers that they'll be shot. She did not return a call seeking comment, but issued a statement through her lawyer.

"I am very relieved that Colt is now safe and that no one was hurt during his capture," it said.

"I have not yet been able to speak to him. It has been over two-and-a-half years since I have seen him, and I miss him terribly."

Harris-Moore spent Monday being questioned by investigators. Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade described him as eloquent, calm, co-operative and "obviously a very intelligent young man," but declined to say whether he made any confession.

Greenslade said the defendant could be extradited to the US relatively quickly, but declined to comment further on the handling of the case.

Kohler spent several hours on Monday meeting with her attorney, O Yale Lewis, who downplayed any profit motive his new client might have. He said she contacted him for advice after being inundated by requests from news reporters as well as inquiries about book and movie deals.

"Her feelings are relief and exhaustion," Lewis said. "Obviously, there is enormous interest in this story, and she wants to be careful about how to proceed. But her first concern has been to make sure her son is safe, and I think she hasn't given much thought beyond that."

Tripped over a log

Kohler's older sister, Sandra Puttmann, of Arlington, was the first relative to hear from Harris-Moore after his arrest on Sunday. She said he's "holding up" but scared now that he's in custody for the first time since he walked away from a halfway house south of Seattle and began his two-year theft spree.

Harris-Moore didn't have his mother's phone number, she said.

She gave it to him, but as of Monday night, he still had not spoken with Kohler.

"I'm so glad he got through to me", Puttmann said. "At least he heard a friendly voice. We cried together."

Puttmann declined to divulge further details of what she described as their brief phone conversation on Sunday. But she angrily criticised news stories about her nephew, saying reporters typically gloss over his difficult upbringing.

Police routinely accused him of stealing even when he hadn't and school officials didn't give him a chance, she alleged - something police and school officials have adamantly denied.

Harris-Moore told a psychologist in 2008 that his mother was abusive when she'd been drinking, according to a court document cited on Monday by The Herald newspaper of Everett. His father left when he was a toddler, and his stepfather died when he was 7, Kohler has said.

"The boy needs help, and he's still just a boy - even if he's 19," Puttmann said. "You have to assume something made him go bad... Why don't you go into detail on that?"

Other Camano residents had little sympathy.

"There's a lot of relief throughout the community," said real estate agent Mark Williams. "I think the man's luck just wore out. You run through the woods long enough, you're going to trip over a log."

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