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Running Down the Barefoot Bandit

Colton Harris-Moore arrives barefoot, handcuffed and shackled as he is escorted by police to Nassau, Bahamas, July 11, 2010. (Credit: flickr/underthelaw)

Colton Harris-Moore, aka “The Barefoot Bandit.” 19 years old. A new Jesse James. We track his story.

Colton Harris-Moore, aka “the barefoot bandit,” is nineteen years old and in big trouble.

The trouble’s not new. His family life was a cruel mess.

He’s been stealing since he was twelve. Fled juvenile detention two years ago – and became a global legend. Stealing boats, cars and planes in the Pacific Northwest. Living in the woods. Thousands of fans on Facebook. Flying, fleeing, across the country.

Captured this month in a hail of bullets in the Bahamas. Who becomes a new Jesse James in the age of Internet fame? Colton.

This hour On Point: the saga of Colton Harris-Moore.


Jackson Holtz, reporter for the Everett Herald, a county newspaper that covers Camano Island, in Washington state, home of the Colton Harris-Moore. He has been covering the story since 2007. See his paper’s interactive timeline about the story and subject.

Zack Sestak, administrator of the Facebook fan page, Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club. The page has 24,042 members as of July 23, 2010.

John Miller, alleged victim. According to Miller, Harris-Moore made off with his Cessna Corvalis plane from a hanger in Indiana.

Paul Schneider, author of “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend.” You can hear his On Point interview about the book.


There are multiple Facebook pages devoted to “The Barefoot Bandit.” Here’s another one: Colton Harris-Moore, The Barefoot Bandit.

Everett Herald (WA) reporter Jackson Holtz has written at least 100 stories about the “Barefoot Bandit.” Holtz provided On Point a list of gems:

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  • Sam

    The more publicity this story and this criminal gets, the more he would feel like a celebrity and justified in his deeds.

    Yes, his childhood is a sad story and yes, he doesn’t have a good mother nor a father, but there are thousands of kids like that. THOUSANDS!

    Plus, more publicity will also encourage other juvenile delinquents to do the same. 20k+ fans is a testament to that.

    I also think that his mother should be held responsible for doing such a horrible job.

  • Nick

    This is just another example of “sensational journalism.”

    Where was the DCF??

    I smell a movie contract. . .

    “FaceBook fame”?!?

  • Chris

    Not that all, or even most, Asperger’s Syndrome individuals exhibit behaviors similar to his, but on top of what we will learn about his earliest years, is it possible that he has Asperger’s, and that, indeed, one or more parent may have had it as well. The genius that is often part of Asperger’s takes place within the overall context of the social learning disorder that characterizes this condition. Is he, perhaps, less criminal in his core, but undiagnosed instead? Is the real crime the lack of understanding about Asperger’s within both the therapeutic and law enforcement communities?

  • Borgny Parker

    What is sad is where was the help he needed when he was 12,stealing pizza to survive? What made him turn to a lifestyle of imaginative crime? He is obviously very bright and needs help becoming a contributing member of society.

  • andrea

    The irony about this guy’s fame is this: If he was a black male, with an alcoholic mother, abusive family, stealing at a young age–to survive, we would label him a juvenile delinquent, or hoodlum and cast him off, send him directly to jail. Is it because he stole planes? What is the big deal?

    The publicity this kid is getting is completely unjustified. Hearing the run down of his life on WBUR is pathetic…you are fanning the flames that will allow his ‘popularity’ to grow. BORING!

  • David

    It seems so poetic to think of this kid flying–what better, more dramatic expression of his desire to leave behind the life he came from. Is he a criminal to be vilified, or a victim to be pitied?

  • Nick

    Would the BFB have become so popular had he been African-American, Hispanic, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese?

  • wsh

    I don’t beleive this is news worthy. Simply arrest him and let it go to trail. wsh

  • jeffe

    Like Jessie James this kid is nothing more than a criminal.
    At least he was not a cold blooded killer like James or Clyde Barrow.

  • John

    The Bahamas only shelters tax cheats, not petty thieves.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Did someone say this guy was diagnosed with Asperger’s? I would throw in that possibly lgrowing up in certain environments (psychological as well as physical, if you can ever divide that totally) might make a child very likely to turn inward, disconnect first from parents, going apraxic or whatever it’s called, and if a child discovers that contacts are irrational and emotionally nonmeaningful, that child would “present” as Asperger’s. A choice/nonchoice.
    It would not help one’s social integration and responsiveness if one decides to go outside the law and become an outsider like that. It tests the limits of self-sufficiency; that’s for sure.

  • Philip

    Okay, so the kid made some SERIOUSLY bad choices.

    That said, I have no sympathy for the whiny rich buggers that he “traumatized.” People who own personal planes and homes in the Bahamas have insurance. They can afford it. This isn’t setting them back by much. Nope. No sympathy.

  • Nick

    How much financial gain are the 2 guests profiting from this young, unhappy, isolated, individual???

  • Joanie-in-MiddleMass

    His feet are too pale in the picture above to have spent much time barefooted.

  • BHA

    Just what we need, a new ‘temporary insanity’ defense. ‘Maybe he has Aspergers or a bad childhood, let him off’

    Sorry, but intelligent as this young man is, he committed many grand thefts, destroyed some of that property. Stole from many. Having a rough childhood doesn’t give one reason to turn to crime rather than get a job and live his life.

  • Glenn Dunn

    Like Jesse James, this kid is just another criminal who should be put away. IF he didn’t hurt anyone it was just a stroke of luck. One doesn’t fly a plane without training unless he is willing to hurt people, perhaps many people, when he crashes.

    Lock him up. If he can rehabilitate himself, so much the better.

  • J. Young

    Seems like people are excited to be able to use new ‘social’ media to track the exploits of this Frank Abagnale Jr. wannabe, perhaps thinking in their own misguided way that they are participating in the creation of a new mythical spin on a story like the movie “Catch Me If You Can” (2002 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0264464/)

    Typical of the duplicitous American psyche: the law abiding vs. the vigilante, the Puritan vs. the sex addict. We aren’t always great at sorting out the details of good vs bad when it seems like the “little guy” is sticking it to the man.

    However, I’ve had small stolen, cars broken into, identity thieved etc. and it pretty much just felt like plain victimization via criminal behavior. I don’t see any value in giving this guy any press, or respect.

    Lots of folks have tough upbringings in this country. It used to be we’d focus on the Louis Armstrong’s in this class of Americans. Now in 2010 we get this pathetic guy. The only thing he deserves is a fair trial, which I’m sure will get it’s unfair proportion of media coverage.

  • Jim Hetrick

    Hi Tom,
    How can The Barefoot Bandit be comepared to Jesse James? Didn’t Jesse and Frank do their robbing to help folks who were less fortunate then they were? Didn’t they “redistribute” their stolen money?
    The Barefoot Bandit, as far as a I can see, was just out for a joy ride at the expense of others.

  • Beth

    I think you’ll find the name “Colton” moving up the list of baby names for 2010. I know two couples who seriously considered it for their sons.

  • BHA

    Who do you think pays for the insurance?? It isn’t a big bucket of money from a tree somewhere. Every time there is a claim, the cost of insurance has the potential to goes up. These companies don’t only insure people with private planes and homes in the Bahamas. Could be YOUR house or car insurance company and YOUR insurance goes up.

  • Carol McCullough

    While he it isn’t clear if he is as sophisticated as Frank Abagnale, this story does remind me of Catch Me if You Can. Perhaps, the best outcome could be a similar one for this young man: He craves daring adventure, avoids violence and can clearly think like a criminal–recruit him for law enforcement.

  • michael budig

    To compare Colton to Jesse James is unfair and really overlooks the history and ruthlessness of Jesse James. Jesse James may have been a folk hero to some who never wanted the Civil War to end, but he was a vicious and unrepentant thug. He seemed to enjoy killing, even innocent bystanders and history is full of examples of his lack of empathy.

    Colton is a two-bit criminal who has done some interesting things and is looked at some as a folk hero, but he has not shown the viciousness and he is young enough that redemption may be possible.

  • Patty

    I think it’s disgusting that anyone is going to profit from this young mans misdeeds. A hollywood movie and facebook pages will only encourage other young people to try to imitate him. Only the next time, the police might shoot to kill, then where what will we be discussing? This madness has to stop!

  • Kath Connolly

    What about race? Every day there are young men of color in our inner cities stealing to survive. None of them have followers on Facebook.

  • Matt

    I have to at least mention the racial element of the public reaction to this story. I can’t help but think that if this were a young black man from the inner city, breaking into homes and stealing cars and planes, he would be called a menace and people would be criticizing the police for not catching him. It isn’t like this kid was a Robin Hood figure, he wasn’t stealing for his family or the poor, there were no good acts to mitigate his bad acts.

  • Les Wetmore

    It has mention that he my have be voilent towards a police officer. As someone who has been mistreated by the police repeatedly through out my life, I can say that police can behave dispicably and this can effect a young persons view of them very strongly. We should question if the way police act is at fault here.

  • http://www.wbur.org/media-player?title=Live%20Stream David

    I hear a number of folks relegating Colton Harris-Moore to the general trash pile of “common criminal”. Perhaps so, but I ask: Don’t we all have a unique life experience and our own individual (and dynamic) means of maintaining our sense of self on the stage of life? So what justifies crude categorizing of one or another as just “a common criminal”? Being OK with that self-centered viewpoint, you can write off every Tom, Dick & Harry as folks who aren’t worth the effort it may take to understand, appreciate and….yeah, even broaden your own understanding of what it is to be human.

  • robert bristow-johnson

    i still think that there is a kernel of empathy left in this kid since he has gone through all of this crime, yet has never killed, attempted to kill, nor attacked any other human being. there are plenty of gang-bangers who have killed, just as an initiation to their gangs.

    stealing cars and airplanes and boats is not the same as a drive-by or a hold-up homicide.

    the authorities should treat him with compassion, but not let him go for a good while (until there is some evidence of rehabilitation).

  • Ellen Dibble

    People post where was DCF (Department of Children and Families), but I hear this individual had been situated in a halfway house at one point, so resources were surely being pulled together on his behalf. This story suggests to me the extraordinary challenges foster parents can be handed. To me, they are the heroes, the heroines, “redeeming” child after child who’s situations have put them not only at risk but seriously out of phase with their peers.
    Cheers to the heroics of foster care system in all their successes.

  • http://WBUR Christine Parkhurst

    The “barefoot bandit” sounds like the protagonist in Rule of the Bone, the excellent novel by Russell Banks. It’s set in the mountains of upstate New York, where I’m originally from.The protagonist is a kid from a poor family, a throw-away kid who breaks into people’s summer homes off-season. The children of the rural poor have very few options- lousy schools, few job options other than joining the military. The recent movie Winter’s Bone is another accurate portrait from Missouri. No wonder these kids feel hopeless. The plane owner who said “Work hard and someday you, too, can own a plane” is selling the Horatio Alger story these kids look around and refuse to believe.

  • Kelby Reid

    i feel that colton is like a modern bony and clyde

  • gemli

    Colton did not set out to be a folk hero. He was a kid who found a way to escape a long, bad upbringing. No one should condone his actions, but it’s fair to say that some children react badly to neglect and abuse and may act out in strange ways. I guess we all wish he had just shut up and taken it, and stayed invisible until he grew up to be an abusive alcoholic to his own children. That’s the normal course of these things, and it’s so much less troublesome for society. This kid did cost several people some money, but there’s always a cost to allowing a defenseless child to be put under pressure that he can’t handle. Colton found a way to act out that may have actually helped him in the end, as long as he is not thrown into the abusive, negelectful prison system. He’s already an expert on what that feels like, and probably doesn’t need a refresher course.

  • Sam N.

    I can’t help confusing him with Abby Sunderland. Each won widespread admiration for acts of personal courage that ended up costing society big-time.

  • paige hartsell

    Being held accountable for bad choices that have a negative impact on others is important in all levels of society. That being said I find the real criminal here our culture & displaced priorities. Children are treated as second class citizens in our present society; until that changes young people like Colton will continue to fall through the cracks & forgotten until they do something sensational oe horrific enough to catch our attention.

  • cory

    A kid committing property crimes against the wealthy, huh? There is someting fun about this kid befuddling the establishment. “…sorta like Robin Hood, the hard rock hero of the whole neighborhood. If they catch him he’ll wind up in court but, it ain’t a crime if you don’t get caught”.

  • peggy luhrs

    Crime! Its hard for me to care about a kid stealing planes and boats from the rich with no violence involved except from the police. Tony Hayward who led his corporation while it destroyed the Gulf and maybe the ocean caused the death of his workers and killed in the most painful way masses of dolphins, whales, turtles and other sea life will now retire with 900,000,000 pounds a year and a billions of pounds in his golden parachute. Goldman Saks speculated in food commodities and caused the starvation deaths of thousands. And this is all business as usual. It is so clear now that we have a two tiered society where there is no accountability for the rich and powerful.

    I think the only reason for those on the bottom to obey the law is not for any moral reasons, clearly our masters think morals are for the little people, but because the system will nail you if you do not have money and/or power. Its like NPR bleating on about is it dangerous to have Wikileaks tell us the truth about the AFPAK war rather than is it dangerous to have this stupid war that is just a great money making boondoggle for military contractors. I of course am not suited to the genteel conversation on NPR which props up corporate and government malfeasance.

    Time is getting short for the planet. For life’s sake put something relevant on the air.

    Peggy Luhrs
    Burlington, VT

  • Carla

    I got into alot of trouble in my twenties after college and got involved with pot smugglers. They sailed a boatload of pot from Thailand to British Collumbia. I am now a mother of two kids in their twenties and I struggle about sharing any of this with them because of the chance that they will glamorize and possibly do something like that because I did. My experience ended badly and was in jail for 18 months. THis is not a fun story this is serious stuff and he is going to regret every moment of it as he gets older.

  • John M.

    So a few things make him different:

    1) He has not stolen to get rich. The level of his vandalism seems to be more about fulfilling a dream of flight (both airborne and fleeing). He’s not in a fancy house, or driving someone’s lexus around town. It sure doesn’t look greedy.

    2) He has not hurt anyone nor been violent toward anyone. we can’t compare him with jesse james or bonnie & clyde. No comparison.

    3) Stealing to buy flight training materials seems a little different than stealing for drugs.

    4) We have all seen law enforcement officials abuse their authority, pull over a red sports car or set speed traps. Somehow, I think the joy people take in Colt is watching him befuddle the police who, as a group, have a some imperfect members among the many good ones.

    5) Lots of people have grown up in lousy circumstances and never commit crimes of this level, though many probably fantasize about it. I think his appeal is that he seems to be fighting back against the police and affluent in his island community, using his intelligence and resourcefulness. Sure, starting a dot.com would be more conventional but the many bankers and dotcommers who trashed Mom & Dad’s retirement funds now live in nice houses in San Jose or Westport and I think they’ve stolen more than he has. Yeah, what the bankers and dotcommers did was legal, but I think a lot of his fans see some injustice in the legal activities.

    6) There’s no hatred or malice in his crimes – the victims haven’t been singled out. They might as well have had a tornado hit their house or a tree fall on their car. The personal battle was with law enforcement (see #5).

    7) Yes, he’s a criminal. I just think he’s not like a lot of the other criminals and that’s why he has a facebook fan page. And I think we could learn a lot about human nature, the will to survive and our own morality after he rehabilitates himself and finds a way to talk about it.

    John M.

  • joshua

    callers spoke of him with such disdain as a criminal–if only they could muster such disdain for true criminals–Banks, BP, Wallstreet, Hedge Funds, Transocean, halliburton, Carlyle Group, COke, Texeco, Exxon, Chevron, McDonalds, KFC, McDonald-Douglas, Lockheed Martin, Nescafe, Bush, Cheney, Republicans, Palin, Fox news, CNN..spreading hate, violence, lies, propaganda, murder, genocide, environmental destruction beyond comprehension, war crimes, crimes against humanity, depleted uranium, sanctions–deliberate starvation–nobody is pursuing these people………

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m thinking about the double standard whereby the rich are not accountable, can sort of buy/bribe their way out of responsibility, and I’m thinking that the rich are therefore less likely to be redeemed. Someone posted that the neglect and abuse of an unhelpful childhood is hardly likely to be corrected by a correctional system that applies more of the same. It’s a bit of a puzzle. Those with enough resources don’t get in the position of needing forgiveness, something like that. Those without all the insulation certain social strata provide so greatly are reworking their reality at the clinics, so to speak? I guess I’m saying that paradoxically the transparency of Colton’s flight — well, it’s a bit like celebrity with all the visibility (the veiling and unveiling, revealing and concealing) except that it’s real. Plenty of young people’s stories have a lot more meat to it than his, but he’s been in the papers for years. Maybe Mohammad Atta looks less dire compared to this (American) kid who never got flying lessons but was even prepared to try to land nonetheless. Idiot Americans.

  • jim

    Who was the musician playing the song about the bandit about half way through the show?

  • jeffe

    cory they did catch him. He also committed petty crimes against middle class people. This kid was not that politically aware although his use of facebook was interesting.

    While I’m not a great lover of disparity of the wealth in this country I still don’t think stealing from the rich is better than stealing from the middle class. It kind of makes sense to steal from people who have more money if you are going to be a crook.

    Compared to Frank Abagnale Jr. this kid was just a run of the mill petty thief who had the guts to steal planes and evade the police. Now Frank did some very clever confidence and forgery crimes and he did them before he was 21.

  • J. Edgar Hoover, Jr.

    Isn’t it apropos that a two-bit incompetent criminal is honored by a talentless singer, songwriter, guitarist.

    And comments by the ‘blogger’ who speaks to this tin horn capturing “people’s imagination”…those people have no imagination, and way too much time on their hands.

  • Spekkio

    Haven’t finished the show yet…still listening to the podcast.

    1. I don’t know where the Asperger’s thing is coming from, but I’m troubled by it. As a diagnosed Aspie, I can assure folks that we tend to follow the rules an awful lot. I can also attest that *not all Aspies are geniuses!* You can be an Aspie and a savant, but the two are not necessarily connected. (Me? I’m definitely not a genius.)

    2. Definitely want to echo what others have said above. This “Barefoot Bandit” is exposing the class war in a big way. He’s in jail for alleged theft, etc, but Dick Cheney and George W. Bush are free despite serious allegations of war crimes. Nobody has brought Bashir to justice yet, either. The Banksters are all still running around, free as birds. It all seems quite off-kilter.

  • elena

    I am sorry for a young man who had no chance for a good childhood so he could develope into an intelligent man with the many opportunities that many others have and if one has not lived such a sorry childhood as this boy, one can emphasize but not truly comprehend his situation so I with many others say, please give this unfortunate young man a chance for his first time in life.  I can’t believe all these adult humans calling for his death, how sorry we have become as so-called christians.  A mother/grandmother/greatgrandmother , Elena

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