An intensive search for Colton Harris-Moore, the alleged "Barefoot Bandit" suspected in dozens of burglaries, boat and airplane thefts and crash landings in the San Juan County area of Washington state, was scaled back after law enforcement failed to find any sign of the elusive teen.
Earlier, it appeared as if law enforcement might have been hot on Harris-Moore's trail. A search team that included 35 San Juan County sheriff's deputies, two teams of "specially trained man trackers," Whatcom County and Snohomish County dog tracking teams, two five-member tracking teams from the Marysville, Wash., Police Department, FBI personnel, and air support from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service were said to be scouring Orcas Island, Wash., for the suspect.
The search began at 1:15 a.m. today after law enforcement received a tip that Harris-Moore may have been hiding out on the west side of Orcas Island, San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming said.
"Aggressive efforts to locate Harris-Moore will be continued by San Juan County Sheriff's Office personnel and supporting agencies," Cumming said in a written statement as the search was scaled down.
"This is a very isolated and very rugged area where only a few homes are located," Cumming's release added. "Ground and air access to the area was controlled. Reports of any suspicious person or activity were pursued. Resources from multiple mainland agencies were deployed."
Officials have suspected Harris-Moore of being back on Orcas Island since February. They suspect he was behind an early morning attempted break-in at the Ace Hardware store on Orcas Island March 1, a target he is suspected of hitting previously.
Officials believe he returned Feb. 11, after a $600,000 Cirruss SR22 single-engine plane was stolen from an airport in Anacortes, Wash., and landed rather sloppily, officials say, off the runway into the mud at the Orcas Island Airport.
Harris-Moore is suspected in the theft and crash landing of two other airplanes around the island and San Juan County areas, despite having no formal flight experience, police say, other than ordering a flight instruction manual with a stolen credit card.
According to Cumming, the Feb. 11 theft nearly turned into an international incident after the pilot flew dangerously close to the restricted airspace around the Vancouver Olympic Games.
San Juan County Sheriff's officers recovered that plane the morning of Feb. 11, and also discovered in Orcas that morning a break-in at the Homegrown Market, a small organic grocer littered with the "barefoot bandit's" reported calling card: 39 chalk outline drawings of bare feet and "c yah" written in chalk by the side door the burglar allegedly exited.
The San Juan County and Island County Sherriff's offices had been working with the FBI since February to bring Harris-Moore in, although for the past two years that has been no easy task. According to police, Harris-Moore is suspected in committing two boat thefts and up to 30 burglaries in Island County alone since 2008, earning the barefoot moniker after police said the suspect was barefoot during a majority of his crimes.
Harris-Moore, from nearby Camano Island, has earned folk hero-like status on the Internet, being compared to a modern day Huckleberry Finn or Jesse James. People are selling T-shirts with his image, and a fan Web site, Facebook page and YouTube Video have been created lauding his uncanny ability to slip away from police and vanish on the islands off Washington's Pacific coast.
In at least once case, police said, Harris-Moore ordered pizzas and asked for them to be delivered to the edge of the woods. Another time, they added, he allegedly left behind a camera with a cheeky photograph of himself in a Mercedes-Benz he's suspected of stealing, which only added to his legend.
People in Orcas are on edge after police said Harris-Moore ripped through the town last summer. He's suspected in committing seven burglaries during August and September.
Harris-Moore's latest alleged arrival in Orcas has citizens of the sleepy Island weary.
A victim of one of his crimes in February said the incident couldn't have come at a worse time.
"It's been a huge hit to the store," said Kyle Ater, owner of Homegrown Market, in an interview with ABC News. "It's really hard to make it in the winter on Orcas. For some reason, he's attacking us in the winter now. Usually he comes in the summer."
Ater said the robbery put his small business in dire straits. He reported at least $5,000 in damage and stolen goods plus another $1,200 in cash taken from cash registers. Also missing Ater said, is an organic cheesecake, some organic produce, and a tray of unbaked croissants.
"He's got good tastes," Ater said. "Guess he likes health food."
Ater said the burglar tried to ruin his newly installed security system by dumping a computer into a sink full of water in an attempt to destroy any video evidence of the crime.
But Ater thinks he may have salvaged the computer, possibly preserving a video of the break-in. He turned the system over to police, who told him it ended up in the hands of the FBI.
Harris-Moore's growing legend is misplaced, Cumming said.
"People who think of him as some kind of folk hero really aren't looking below the surface," Cumming said. "He's hurting struggling business, and he's flying airplanes over populated areas and he doesn't have a pilot's license. You don't need much imagination to see what kind of catastrophic consequences that could lead to."