Colton Harris-Moore spent years imagining the inside a cockpit, so when it actually happened – in a stolen aircraft and at age 18 – it was the most natural thing in the world.
His legacy is one of crime and community outrage, but according to Harris-Moore, it all stemmed from one thing: an obsession with airplanes.
“Frankly, I was willing to risk my life to have that experience,” said the 25-year-old, who will be released from prison in July after serving a six-year sentence for a crime spree that stretched from the Pacific Northwest to the Caribbean.
Harris-Moore, known as the Barefoot Bandit, has been notoriously reluctant to speak publicly since his arrest and conviction in 2010 for burglaries and plane theft. In early April 2016, he began reaching out to the press to discuss his mother, Pam Kohler, who is fighting end-of-life-stage lung cancer. Harris-Moore fears that he will not be released from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen in time to see her. He is trying to raise $308,000 through crowd-funding to cryogenically freeze his mother when she dies.
“We are in a desperate stage to get the word out and raise public awareness of what we are trying to accomplish, which is cryogenics … It’s not science fiction, it’s real,” Harris-Moore said.
He hopes that in the near future, with her body and vital organs in a deep freeze, she can be brought back to life and have her cancer successfully treated. Harris-Moore plans to use Alcor Life Extension Foundation. The donation page is www.gofundme.com/SavePamK. If all of the money is not raised, donations will be returned.
“If nothing is done, she is going to leave this earth with an incomplete life,” Harris-Moore said.
The story of the Barefoot Bandit
Raised on Camano Island, Harris-Moore began a two-year burglary spree after escaping from a Renton group home in 2008. His crimes included breaking into homes and businesses in the San Juan Islands and Skagit County and stealing boats and airplanes. He taught himself to operate an aircraft by playing video games and reading books on the subject. He eluded authorities by staying in the woods and unoccupied homes.
Known as the Barefoot Bandit because he left foot prints at some of his crime scenes, Harris-Moore was captured in the Bahamas in 2010 after a a brief, high-speed boat chase that involved gunfire. He was carrying a handgun and police shot out his boat motor.
In the media frenzy and court process that followed, Harris-Moore was shocked to hear how his time evading authorities had affected those left in his wake.
“One of the most important experiences of the last five years is discovering the impact of the years I spent on the run,” Harris-Moore said. “When you are in the moment and you are on the ground running around, you sometimes aren’t aware of the full scope of the impact you’ve had … I truly had no idea that I affected people as deeply as I did.”
He says he broke into Orcas Homegrown Market and drew footprints on the floor because, “I was an arrogant 18-year-old. I was leaving the country 12 hours later and it was my sign that I was leaving.”
After his conviction, Harris-Moore sold the rights to his story to 20th Century Fox for just over $1 million. All of the money has gone to his victims for damages.
“The only reason I worked with Fox was to secure restitution,” he said. “I have done everything in my physical power – given where I am at – to clear the slate and make people whole and facilitate everyone moving forward.”
Harris-Moore’s attorney John Henry Browne told the Sounder last fall that he’s been “using his time wisely” while incarcerated.
“He’s growing up,” Browne said. “He’s studying and working eight to 10 hours a day. He’s completed two degrees and he’s being tutored by a high ranking Boeing engineer.”
When he is released on a work-program in July, Harris-Moore is getting a pilot’s license.
“I will have a pilot’s license before I get an apartment or a car,” he said. “Not a moment goes by where I don’t think of an airplane.”
He plans to stay in Washington state and work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. He is interested in finance and security, but ultimately intends to build aircraft that “pushes the limits of possibility of flight.”
For Harris-Moore, Orcas is a refuge, a place where he remembers camping as a kid. He hopes to own a vacation home in the San Juans some day.
“I love the San Juans. It is my adopted home … I have a deeper connection and more of a love for the San Juans than anywhere else in the world,” he said.
Harris-Moore says that if he could go back in time, he would have turned himself in early. He was “wholly unaware” of the fear that spread throughout the small communities where he committed his crimes.
“I didn’t think that I would never be caught, but I tried to do everything in my power to remain uncaught … it literally snowballed … it wasn’t a game, it was something I took seriously,” he said. “Whatever goal I have, I tend to dedicate myself completely – just like I am doing to save my mom’s life.”
As was detailed in Orcas resident Bob Friel’s book “The Barefoot Bandit: The True Tale of Colton Harris-Moore, New American Outlaw,” Harris-Moore has had a troubled relationship with his mother. Kohler battled alcohol addiction for much of Harris-Moore’s childhood.
“My mom has had a really hard life,” he said. “She had a difficult upbringing. But she has hopes and dreams like anyone else … I feel a tremendous sense of guilt for being on the run for three years and in jail for five and a half years and not being there.”
The two are very close now and have a “dynamic” relationship.
“Everyone wants to blame Pam but I made my own choices,” he said. “We’re the only family either one of us has had.”
Despite the news stories, books, documentaries and television programs about his life, Harris-Moore has no interest in notoriety and says he will “never commit another crime” in his life.
“If it was up to me, nobody would know who I am,” he said. “I am very uncomfortable with the media … My heart is in the right place and it always will be. I hope that people can on some level appreciate that. A lot of people belong here [in prison]. But I don’t belong here.”