'Barefoot Bandit' Colton Harris-Moore Eyed in Bahamas Plane Crash

Police say plane stolen from Indiana, crashed in Bahamas fits his M.O.

July 6, 2010, 1:43 PM

July 6, 2010— -- It appears even Washington state's notorious "Barefoot Bandit" needs a bit of a summer vacation.

Colton Harris-Moore, the 19-year-old suspected felon and cult hero, who police say has a penchant for stealing boats and planes, could be a suspect in the nabbing a Cessna 400 from a rural Indiana airport on Sunday. The plane crashed in the shallow waters off the Bahamian coast hours later.

The FBI Assistant Special Agent Steven Dean told ABCNews.com that they don't have concrete evidence that Harris-Moore was behind the theft, but it's likely.

"He was moving in that general area and he's stolen airplanes before and he's crash landed them like this," Dean said.

The FBI, which has been tracking Harris-Moore for about a year, is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

"He went from being a regional nuisance to an international problem," Dean said.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office Chief Michael Pershing said today that he didn't even know who Harris-Moore was or anything about his fabled exploits until they were tipped off by a police department in Illinois where authorities think the 19-year-old high school dropout may have stolen a car he used to drive to the airport in Indiana.

"There are similarities with M.O.'s that we've been advised of," Pershing said.

Pershing said they Google'd the teen and read about the dozens of thefts, break-ins and burglaries he's suspected of, mostly in the string of Pacific Northwest islands he hails from.

The hangar at the Monroe County Airport, where the Cessna was found missing has been processed for fingerprints, but Pershing said he was unaware if they'd been able to lift any full prints.

The Cessna 400, valued at about $600,000 and registered to a man named John Miller, was believed to be stolen sometime between 9:30 p.m. on Saturday and 6:30 a.m. on Sunday. Pershing said there was a sign of forced entry at the airport and that the door to the hangar where the plane was rolled out was left open.

Miller, he said, was unaware his plane was missing until the Coast Guard called to tell him the plane's beacon was emitting a signal off the coast of the Bahamas.

"We don't know the condition of the plane other than it was found in the water and there was no occupants when he found the aircraft," Pershing said. That end of the investigation is now headed up by the Royal Bahamas Police Force.

Dean said FBI agents already stationed in the Bahamas have been assisting the government in its investigation and believe strongly he's still in the Caribbean nation.

Though Harris-Moore is not an official suspect in Indiana, it could be further evidence that he's expanded his playground from the Pacific Northwest, where he spent two years on the run after escaping from a group home in April 2008.

Last month, police in Yankton, S.D., said they were eyeing the teen in an airport break-in and car theft case there, as well as a burglary that netted a description that partially matched Harris-Moore.

Police have named him as a suspect in a string of thefts in Illinois, Nebraska and Idaho, ABC's Seattle affiliate KOMO reported today.

'Momma Tried:' Harris-Moore's Mother Pleads for Donations for Son

As his trail of alleged crimes grew longer and more outrageous, he began to attract a cult-like following, further infruriating police who had come agonizingly close to catching him in the spring.

He has been dubbed the "barefoot bandit" after leaving footprints, some of them exaggerated, after some of his alleged break-ins.

A Facebook fan page dedicated to Harris-Moore today boasted more than 43,700 fans. Several months ago a local businessman in Washington state took to printing T-shirts' bearing his likeness with the slogan "Momma Tried."

There are even a movie deal and a book proposal in the works.

"I think it's pretty sad that people are creating a hero out of a criminal," Dean said. "There has to be a victim here. People are losing their cars, people are having their houses broken into. People are losing their boats and their planes."

Though Harris- Moore seemingly has no intentions of slowing down, his supporters are already preparing for the day when he has no choice.

The most recent posting on the Colton Harris-Moore Fan Club Web site, dated July 1, requested for donations for his legal defense fund.

Shauna Snyder, who describes herself on her Web site as a criminal defense investigator and owner of Skepteon Investigations, is collecting the donations for Harris-Moore.

She declined to tell ABCNews.com how much she had collected for the teen.

"Donations have been coming in," she said, "and there's been a lot of interest."

She wrote on her Web site that she met Harris-Moore while working on his defense team when he was 16 years old. She described him as a "friendly, polite and intelligent kid" and said that the lack of evidence implicating him in crimes he was accused of as a young teen now fuels her desire to help him fight the charges he's all but certain to face if he's ever captured.

Harris-Moore's mother, who has been outspoken in encouraging her son to keep running, also posted a plea for donations, saying her son has been wrongly accused of crimes since he was a child.

"Now, there's not a break-in or a theft in the entire Northwest that the media or law enforcement doesn't rush to pin on Colt," said the plea, signed by Pam Kohler.

"We have no way of knowing what charges will be filed against Colt. The media has already convicted him as 'the Barefoot Bandit' and created widespread accusations and perception of guilt," the statement continued. "Eventually, though, Colt will have to fight for his freedom against the full force of the legal system."