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Wash. authorities hunt for notorious teen burglar

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EASTSOUND, Wash. — Colton Harris-Moore's rap sheet already spans a good chunk of the teenager's life, including convictions for theft, burglary, malicious mischief and other crimes.

But the list may be growing longer by the week, authorities say, as the 18-year-old eludes officials on a crime spree they believe includes store break-ins, boat thefts and even joyrides in airplanes.

"He's more than a menace," said Bill Cumming, the sheriff in San Juan County, where authorities say he may be to blame for 14 thefts and burglaries on their islands. "He's an incredible liability to people's safety."

In 2004, at age 12, Harris-Moore was convicted of possessing stolen property in Snohomish County. Over the next three years came convictions for theft, burglary, malicious mischief, and assault, among other crimes.

In 2007, the boy was sentenced to three years in a juvenile lockup after pleading guilty to three burglary counts in Island County. But he fled the minimum-security facility in April 2008.

Since then, he is suspected in a string of burglaries in the Camano Island, north of Seattle, and recently may have moved on to the San Juan Islands, where he is being investigated for the store break-ins and boat thefts.

Cumming also told The Seattle Times that Harris-Moore may have stolen a boat on Sept. 13 and taken it to Point Roberts, in Whatcom County, where several subsequent burglaries occurred.

Harris-Moore's mother, Pam Kohler, who lives in a rural home on south Camano Island, told The Herald newspaper in Everett that she doesn't believe her son is responsible for the crime wave.

"Anytime anything is stolen they blame it on Colt," Kohler said.

Cumming said Harris-Moore may have arrived in the San Juans last November, when a Cessna 182 was stolen from an Orcas Island hangar. The sheriff said the single-engine plane was flown to Eastern Washington where it made a "hard landing" on the Yakama Indian Reservation.

Investigators found vomit in the cockpit and a sample has been sent to the state crime lab to determine whether it came from Harris-Moore.

He also is being investigated in the Sept. 11 theft of an experimental aircraft from Friday Harbor that was flown to Orcas Island, where it made a hard landing, Cumming said.

The following night, a teen believed to be Harris-Moore eluded a San Juan County sheriff's deputy patrolling the Orcas Island town of Eastsound.

"He was quite athletic and outran the officer and outmaneuvered him into a wooded area," Cumming said. "He laughed out loudly when he realized he was successful escaping from that officer."

Cumming said San Juan deputies began to suspect Harris-Moore was on their islands after examining surveillance videos taken during store break-ins. As on Camano Island, authorities think he's living in the woods and in vacant homes and vacation cabins.

A community meeting was planned Wednesday evening on Orcas Island to discuss the recent break-ins.

"Gosh, if this proves to be this career young criminal who is disrupting the island and its residents, it's a bit shocking and surprising," Lance Evans, executive director of the Eastsound Chamber of Commerce, told The Times. "It's a very kind of peaceful, laid-back kind of community. People get in the habit of being a bit too casual in their personal or business safety."

In March 2009, Island County Juvenile Deputy Prosecutor Peter Simpson charged Harris-Moore with 10 criminal counts in an alleged 2008 crime spree on Camano Island. Simpson said the charges, filed in adult court, include vehicle theft, attempting to elude police, malicious mischief, identity theft, theft and possession of stolen property.

Island County sheriff's Detective Ed Wallace speculated that Harris-Moore may have learned the basics of flying by reading flight-training manuals and searching the Internet.

Wallace said that in several Camano Island burglaries, investigators found that computers were used to look up information about flying. Cumming said a credit card stolen in one burglary was used to purchase flight manuals.

Kohler told The Herald that her son doesn't know how to fly an airplane and hasn't been to flight school.

"I know for a fact that he hasn't; I'm his mother," she said. "Let's say you're the smartest person in the world, wouldn't you need a little bit of training in flying a plane? They're not easy."