Nassau, Bahamas — For two years he stayed a step ahead of the law — stealing cars, powerboats and even airplanes, police say, while building a reputation as a 21st-century folk hero. On Sunday, Colton Harris-Moore’s celebrity became his downfall.
Witnesses on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera recognized the 19-year-old dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” and called police, who captured him after a high-speed boat chase, Bahamas Police Commissioner Ellison Greenslade said at a celebratory news conference in Nassau, the capital.
Greenslade said shots were fired during the water chase but he did not say who fired them. He also said Harris-Moore was carrying a handgun that he tried to throw away.
Another senior police official, however, said police fired to disable the motor on the suspect’s stolen boat, and that Harris-Moore threw his gun in the water. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case, also said that police recovered a laptop and a GPS locator from the suspect.
Police flew Harris-Moore in shackles to Nassau. True to his nickname, the teen with close-shorn hair was shoeless as he walked off the plane wearing short camouflage cargo pants, a short-sleeved shirt and a bulletproof vest.
Harris-Moore is blamed for several thefts in the Bahamas in the week since allegedly crash-landing a stolen plane there, and Bahamian authorities said he would be prosecuted for those crimes before the start of any U.S. extradition proceedings.
The 6-foot-5-inch Harris-Moore had been on the run since escaping from a Washington state halfway house in 2008. He is accused of breaking into dozens of homes and committing burglaries across Washington, as well as in British Columbia and Idaho.
He is also suspected of stealing at least five planes — including the aircraft he allegedly lifted in Indiana and flew more than 1,000 miles to the Bahamas, despite a lack of formal flight training.
Some of his alleged actions appeared intended to taunt police: In February, someone who broke into a grocery store in Washington’s San Juan Islands drew cartoonish, chalk-outline feet all over the floor.
Through it all, his ranks of supporters grew. Some of his more than 60,000 Facebook fans posted disappointed messages Sunday, while others promoted T-shirts and tote bags with the words “Free Colton!” and “Let Colton Fly!”