‘Barefoot Bandit’ arrested in Bahamas

A US teenager who allegedly stole cars, boats and airplanes to dodge US law enforcement for two years was finally captured yesterday in the Bahamas, bringing an end to exploits that made the “Barefoot Bandit” a folk hero.

Colton Harris-Moore was arrested before dawn on northern Eleuthera island, a police official said, and faces extradition.

Island police have been searching for him since he allegedly crash-landed a stolen plane a week ago on nearby Great Abaco Island.

Harris-Moore, who has been running from American law enforcement since escaping from a Washington state halfway house in 2008, gained fame and thousands of fans who admired his ability to evade arrest.

He is suspected of stealing dozens of cars and boats and at least five planes — including the aircraft he allegedly stole in Indiana and flew to the islands off Florida’s coast, despite a lack of formal flight training. (He has had no flight training, he is self-taught through playing flight-simulator games and reading instruction manuals).

The 19-year-old is a skilled outdoorsman who honed his abilities growing up in the woods of Camano Island in Puget Sound about 50 kilometres north of Seattle.

Island police picked up his trail in Eleuthera after recovering a 44-foot power boat stolen from a marina on Abaco, 65 km to the north, where he was suspected in a string of burglaries.

Burglary victims in Eleuthera said they had little doubt the lanky, 6-foot, 5-inch fugitive was on the island.

Ferry boat captain Freddie Grant said he was returning from Harbour Island in northern Eleuthera on Wednesday evening when he saw a tall, white teenager bathing or swimming in an inlet near the ferry landing. Ferry service employee Stan Pennerman also said he saw Harris-Moore lurking in the woods the same day.

Neither man thought much of it until they noticed the next morning that somebody had damaged the ignition system on three of their boats.

Others liked him, however. “I tip my hat to the fellow,” said Clayton Sands, a 54-year-old Bahamian. “For him to duck and dodge the police in two countries at 19, that’s impressive.”

Harris-Moore’s first conviction, for possession of stolen property, came at age 12. Within a few months of turning 13, he had three more.

He was sentenced to nearly four years in juvenile detention after being caught in an unoccupied home in 2007, but he did well enough there that he was transferred to a group home, where he sneaked out of a window more than two years ago.

He was dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” for allegedly going shoeless during some crimes and once allegedly leaving behind chalk footprints as a calling card.

He has become a folk hero to supporters, and has tens of thousands of followers on Facebook.

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