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His name is Colton Harris-Moore, and he’s in big trouble.
The moniker “Barefoot Bandit” was hung on Colton Harris-Moore sometime before or after he left a chalk footprint at the scene of one his crimes. When he was “perp-walked” off a plane in Nassau, true to his legend, he wasn’t wearing any shoes. His notoriety is all the more remarkable because he was neither violent nor political. He made no statements of any substance, and he fought for no great causes. Internet denizens have dubbed him a latter-day Robin Hood, while some reporters have claimed he’s built “a reputation as a 21st–century folk hero.” Yet he did nothing to help anyone but himself – and while his crimes were confined to theft, they were crimes.
Colton Harris-Moore has been a fugitive for two years. That’s longer than many hardened, armed criminals manage to hold out, with the exception of a few notable hard cases like James Charles Kopp and Eric Robert Rudolph (both of whom were reportedly assisted by people or groups who considered them heroes despite their despicable acts). When police finally closed in on Harris-Moore in the Bahamas, he stole a boat and led them on a chase worthy of an action movie. Eventually, the cops shot out the engine of the boat. Colton, armed for perhaps the first time in his criminal career, reportedly put the gun to his head in some sort of dramatic final play. Other reports say he tried to throw the gun into the water before he was taken. Regardless of what happened, Colton Harris-Moore was captured without injury to himself or others. As of this writing, he has been deported to the United States to face the consequences of his two-year adventure.
It was that adventure that eventually got him caught. Colton, you see, is famous, thanks to the Internet. His Facebook page has thousands of followers. At least one fellow in Seattle started selling T-shirts bearing Colton’s picture. 20th Century Fox has purchased the film rights to the story, and Harris-Moore’s mother is fighting to get control of her son’s “entertainment interests.”
It was that fame that prompted concerned citizens, who recognized Colton in the Bahamas, to call the police.
What you may have missed in all this – I know I did, at first – is that Colton was not a wealthy child who happened to have a pilot’s license. He never had any formal pilot training at all. He’s the product of a troubled childhood, a disturbed young man who is also very intelligent. He reportedly taught himself to fly a plane using flight-simulator games and possibly using research he did on the Internet. (At least one report claims he had a laptop and a GPS unit with him when he was captured.) At 19, he has more solo hours in light aircraft than many adults trying to get their pilot’s licenses. He is believed to have stolen five planes, two cars and a boat – and that’s not to mention the hundred or more burglaries of residences in the United States and Canada the authorities think he committed.
The boy’s story is incredible, to be sure. He is not, however, a folk hero. Jackson Holtz, writing last year, said it best:
Colton Harris-Moore is no Jesse James. No Robin Hood. No Billy the Kid or misfit MacGyver. … The line between fact and fiction has started to blur in the past few weeks, as the 18-year-old from Camano Island has gained international notoriety as a wily, fleet-footed commando who continues to stay steps ahead of the police. … [As] the elusive teen has become banter for talk radio and [blogs], lore often has outgrown truth. … He’s no boy genius. It’s unlikely that he and his mom will be nominated for the mother-child pair of the year. He’s not blamed for every crime in the Pacific Northwest. He’s no survivalist. He likely didn’t hot-wire airplanes. And he’s not always the barefoot burglar.
Holtz went on to poke holes in the myth of the Barefoot Bandit. It was Colton Harris-Moore’s mother who told reporters that her son’s IQ was just a few points shy of Einstein’s. But Harris-Moore left a great deal of evidence behind at the scene of his crimes, marking him, according to Holtz, as something far less than a criminal genius. He also isn’t as close to his mother as she would have you believe, given that he hasn’t even lived at home since 2006. While he’s been getting headlines since 2007, it’s simply not true that every stolen vehicle in the Northwest was his handiwork, nor he is a “survivalist” as has been reported. (He set up camps in the woods and filled his tents with expensive luxury electronics, like iPods and computers.) He didn’t even “hot-wire” the stolen planes he repeatedly crash-landed, despite popular reports – because at least two of them were Cessnas, which are notoriously easy to start. Why, he even wore shoes more often than not.
Technology created the Barefoot Bandit. It was technology that allowed Colton Harris-Moore to access the information he used and to acquire the little training he had to commit the crimes for which he is believed responsible. Without the Internet, without flight-simulator games, without the easy access to diverse and sometimes obscure information that our technologically saturated age affords, Colton Harris-Moore could not have known how to do what he did. But technology also created the Barefoot Bandit in promulgating, in disseminating, his legend. Without the Internet, without blogs and Facebook and online T-shirt sales and video sharing and countless “fans” talking to each other across the country and even around the world, Colton Harris-Moore could not have become famous. Had he not been famous, he would not have been caught … and so this technological snake begins to consume its own tail, circling back on itself in what is, ultimately, not a very exciting story at all.
Colton Harris-Moore is a thief, and that’s all he’ll be remembered for being.