Camano Island teen eludes police in San Juan County – Sheriff holds community meeting on Orcas

Top: Sheriff Bill Cumming talking with the Orcas Island business community, whic has been the target of Harris-Moore
Top: Sheriff Bill Cumming talking with the Orcas Island business community, whic has been the target of Harris-Moore's burglaries. Above: A self-portrait of Colton Harris-Moore, which he took on a camera stolen from a deputy on the mainland.
— image credit: Colleen Smith Armstrong/contributed photos

The San Juan County Sheriff’s office is looking for one suspect, a Camano Island man, in connection with an ongoing rash of break-ins and thefts that has hit Orcas recently, as well as a series of crimes from last year.

After comparing security tapes from several crime scenes, authorities identified the suspect as Colton Harris-Moore, 18, of Camano Island. He is described as 6’3” tall and 205 pounds with brown hair and green eyes. Harris-Moore has a scar on his left arm from a knife wound.

“We’ve been in discussion with Island County about a similar and extensive rash of burglaries over an extended period of time with a possible connection to what we’re seeing here,” Sheriff Bill Cumming said.

Harris-Moore is wanted in connection with an Aug. 28 break-in at the Deer Harbor marina; the following break-ins during September: Sunflower Cafe, Vern’s Bayside, Bilbo’s, Islanders Bank, Ace Hardware, and Island Market; and the theft of two boats on Orcas and a plane from Friday Harbor that was later hard-landed at the Port of Orcas.

On Sept. 12, the suspect ran from deputies in Eastsound after he was spotted.

In almost all of the these crimes the suspect is believed to have been barefoot.

Harris-Moore is also wanted in connection with an August 2008 break-in and theft at Vern’s Bayside, and the theft of a plane from a Port of Orcas hangar the same day. He is also a suspect in a residential burglary in September 2008.

According to Cumming, Harris-Moore has also been connected to 20 to 30 burglaries in Island County, the Stanwood-area in particular.

“We believe all those cases have elements compatible enough that they are related to our suspect,” Cumming said, explaining they needed further evidence. “We cannot physically tie him to the earlier plane theft, for example.”

The earlier plane Cumming referred to is a Cessna S-182 stolen from a locked Port hangar the morning of Nov. 12, 2008. The aircraft was discovered later that morning abandoned in a closed area of the Yakima Nation reservation in eastern Washington.

The Sheriff’s Department has sent some biological evidence to a lab for a DNA comparison. Generally lab tests are reserved for investigations of murder or rape, and not property crime, but due to the extensive nature of the burglaries, the sheriff is looking for all he can to identify a suspect in the San Juan County crimes.

Harris-Moore is wanted in connection with the theft of a boat from Brandt’s Landing on Sept. 13, later recovered in Point Roberts, which as an exclave of the United States is a border that wouldn’t present a large obstacle for a suspect to cross. Cumming speculates the suspect crossed into Canada.

Harris-Moore was convicted in June 2007 of three counts of residential burglary and was given three years confinement. He escaped from a group home in Renton on April 30, 2008 when he was still a juvenile.

Cumming said he originally wanted Harris-Moore to believe he hadn’t been identified yet to give him a false sense of security. The Sheriff’s department is now taking a different approach.

“This young man has been prolific in his activity in a compressed period of time,” Cumming said.

Cumming advises anyone who has experienced a break-in to check their credit cards for unauthorized purchases.

"Part of his M.O. is to take credit card information, but leave the card," he said. "He's done this in Island County. People whose homes or businesses have been broken into should scrutinize their credit card bills carefully."

Sheriff talks with local business owners

Sheriff Bill Cumming spoke with Orcas business owners Wednesday night at the fire station, providing an update on the case against Harris-Moore.

Most of the meeting was closed to the press, but Cumming did offer these tips for keeping stores safe.

• Lock all windows and doors when leaving for the night. Cumming said many thieves are opportunistic, and will go for a store that is dark, has no alarm system, and is not locked.

• Invest in a good alarm system. Cheaper varieties can be easily triggered, resulting in false alarms. Cumming says it's worth the higher price for a reliable system – silent alarms are preferred.

• The sheriff's office offers free audits of business security systems. Cumming urges owners to take advantage of this service.

A reward fund for information leading to the arrest of Harris-Moore has been set up at Islanders Bank; the money has been donated by local businesses. It's currently at $2,000 and growing. Anyone with information can call the Sheriff's office at 378-4151.

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