Where in the World is Colton Harris-Moore?

On the islands north of Seattle, WA, teenage Colton Harris-Moore is becoming much more than the stuff of local legends.

In the months since his escape from a minimum-security juvenile home in April 2008, Colton Harris-Moore has gone on a crime spree so prolific that it has earned him a Facebook fan page with over 7,000 members and his own T-shirt.

Harris-Moore has burglarized over 50 homes, stolen two boats, crashed three airplanes and has very likely done much more. Leading police through Washington, Idaho and Canada, Harris-Moore has evaded capture. In Eastsound, WA, deputy Jeff Patterson describes how he saw the teen for a fleeting second in the beam of his flashlight before “he virtually vaporized in front of [him]” into the thick woods.

Harris-Moore is 6 feet 3 inches tall and over 200 lbs and has had his “baby face” plastered over the television, newspapers and bulletin boards for months. Yet eluding the police is nothing new for Harris-Moore; by age 12, Harris-Moore had been convicted of possession of stolen property. Since, he has accumulated convictions for theft, burglary, malicious mischief and fourth-degree assault.

Raised on Camano Island, WA, in a dilapidated singlewide trailer by his single mother, Harris-Moore is often described as one who steals necessities rather than luxuries.

However, this did not last for long, as Harris-Moore has stolen three planes and two boats in order to island hop as he burglarized the summer homes that line the islands. While the teen has no formal training in aviation, he allegedly purchased an aviation manual using a stolen credit card and also amassed some knowledge from the Internet. Damage to the recovered aircraft is consistent with hard landings performed by an amateur.

When asked about the suspected theft of the three aircrafts, Colton Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, stated, “I hope to hell he stole those airplanes – I would be so proud.” She quickly made sure to add, “But put in there that I want him to wear a parachute next time.”

His usual repertoire consists of breaking into empty businesses or vacation homes, reclining on the couch and fleeing into the woods when confronted. It is in these woods that Harris-Moore likely makes camp for most nights. Local police simply do not have enough manpower to launch a full-scale search for the youth.

Police are not taking this lightly, though. Island County Sherriff Mark Brown recently shouted at “TODAY” show producer that, “He is an adult felon! I will not have him made into some kind of folk hero!”

This raises the question of whether or not it is such a fan-base that instigates such behavior. Given titles of a “modern-day Jesse James without the murders” and comparisons to the popular movie “Catch Me If You Can,” it seems very plausible that our reactions (which some might call “support”) prod individuals into pursuing paths of infamy.

On October 15, 2009, the world thought that six-year-old Falcon Heene was trapped in a homemade helium balloon traveling at heights upwards of 7,000 feet. The balloon, structurally designed and painted to look like a UFO, drew immediate international attention, especially via the Internet.

Upon landing, the balloon was found to be empty. Prompted by the concern that the boy might have fallen from the balloon, a manhunt began.

After found to be hiding at his house for the entire duration of the event, rumors began to circulate that the “accidental” incident may have been staged. On October 18, 2009, during an interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Heene was asked why he remained hidden for such a long time. He replied, “You guys said we did this for the show.”

As it turns out, Heene’s parents, Richard and Mayumi, had been involved in the reality TV world previously. In fact, they had been featured on the show “Wife Swap,” and had recently unsuccessfully pitched a reality TV idea to the TLC channel.

Criminals have always enthralled society; the infamous have lived lives of celebrity, treated like heroes by some. While crime has become a spectator sport to some, it is no excuse for criminal behavior.

While some, like teenage Harris-Moore, have resorted to burglary, the rest of us are hardworking citizens who earn their living. Harris-Moore is not an example of someone challenging the social norms in an acceptable manner. A combination of poverty and the desire to be “cool” in the eyes of society has led Harris-Moore down a path of petty crimes that has further distanced him from a normal life.

Despite the corruption that plagues our business world and the disproportionate distribution of wealth in our nation, there is no justification for surviving off of the profits of others. We cannot give some individuals the title of modern day Robin Hood as an excuse for illegal activity while forcing others to abide by our laws.

Harris-Moore is not a martyr attempting to send a message through his activities; he is simply trying to survive day-to-day while running from the law. Perhaps we are looking for a modern day hero, especially in such times of economic downturn, but we cannot settle for mere criminals.

Alexander Gura is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at agura@uci.edu.