"Barefoot Bandit" Wrote Letter To Judge Offering Insight Into His Crime
By Mike Mitchell
December 18, 2011 - Colton Harris-Moore 20, of Camano
Island, Washington, who became know as the "Barefoot
Bandit" wrote a letter to both Judge Richard Jones,
Judge Vikki Churchill in which Harris-Moore gives a
personal account into his behaviors, offering insight
into what lead him to his criminal spree in the Pacific
Northwest and across the United States to Indiana,
ending in the Bahamas.
his letter Harris-Moore?s speaks to his behaviors, some
lesions learned and his emotional state. The letter is a
compelling letter of his life before and after his
capture. Harris-Moore describes his flight in some
detail to the Bahamas and how that nearly cost him his
Harris-Moore was a criminal and former fugitive. He was
charged with the thefts of small aircraft, a boat, and
two cars and in the burglaries of at least 100 private
residences in various locations around the Pacific
Northwest of the United States and Canada. He fled to
the Bahamas on July 4, 2010, allegedly in a plane stolen
from Bloomington, Indiana.
was indicted on July 6, 2010, by a U.S. Federal Court in
Seattle, Washington, on charges of transporting another
stolen aircraft in that state. Harris-Moore was arrested
in Harbour Island, Bahamas, on July 11, 2010, after
police shot out the engine of the boat in which he was
attempting to flee.
Two days later, he was deported from Nassau, Bahamas, to
Miami, Florida, and transferred on July 21 to the
Federal Detention Center, SeaTac in Washington State. On
December 16, 2011, Harris-Moore was sentenced to more
than seven years in prison for dozens of consolidated
charges brought against him from three different
counties. He will be sentenced in January of 2012 at
Seattle's Federal Courthouse for related federal crimes. See
See letter below.
Judge Richard A Jones, Honorable Judge Vikki Churchill,
States of America v. Colton Harris-Moore, (Case No. CR1 O-0336-RAJ) Sate
of Washington v. Colton Harris-Moore, Case No. ?
Honorable Judge Vikki Churchill,
I am writing this
letter to the court after pleading guilty to Federal charges and prior
to pleading guilty to state charges involving thefts of aircrafts,
boats, cars and other serious charges. I would like to provide the court
with my own account of various factors including an abbreviated personal
history, insights of lessons learned, explanations of my emotional and
mental state, how those crimes have affected me and my feels towards
those that I have wronged and what efforts I have made to make things
right. I will provide the court with further insight into my plans while
I am incarcerated. And any assurances I can provide the court of my
sincerity and commitment to the community, and that I will not return to
court. I will like to thank the court for instilling in our society rule
of law, which has undoubtedly allowed me to stand before the court today
alive, for this I am truly thankful.
Your Honor, you
will have been presented with reams of materials and assessments from
experts, psychologists, sociologists, mitigation specialists, advocates,
persecutors, supporters, victims and those seeking to further an agenda.
From these accounts, you will have a wide variety of factors to weigh.
In contrast to this, I take full responsibility for my actions, these
explanations are only to provide you with context, not excuses. Today I
stand before you an adult in age, but deprived of a childhood, and being
judged upon actions which were immature and prior my understanding their
childhood was one that I would not wish on my darkest enemies. I wish
not to point fingers or enumerate through the gamut of issues, however,
my thirst for knowledge, cries for help, and coming of age was met with
inept parents suffering from drugs and alcohol. I did not have a
caretaker who guarded my well-being and innocents with lessons of life,
nurture and sympathy. My father figure(s) revolving through my home were
mere self-destructive mirrors of my mom. To quote advice, cite
encouragement, or recount memories of lasting value would be futile.
These are neither excuses, rather facts from my life.
I was trapped with
no outlet for my interests, I did what children do with idle time. Once
I fell into the criminal system's trap, the noose only tightened with
each incident regardless of severity or cause. My mother became more
despondent, unaffected by my cries for help. Nothing anyone could do
would change my circumstance, I struggled with blaming the system or the
cards I was dealt. My mother, while unable to raise a son, was in fact
my mother, and no system should be able to take that away from her.
However, despite this, I fought to find myself and envision my dreams.
On April 22, 2008,
I absconded from the Griffin House, a month after my seventeenth
birthday. I did this in frustration to the councilor's treatment towards
me, while in retrospect this disagreement was childish. Nonetheless, I
felt robbed of my youth. I didn't know who I was yet, I didn't know what
I was doing, and most of all, I was alone with no-one to talk to.
Escaping from the world, I ended up living in the deep woods of various
places in the Puget Sound.
It was there that
I learned the difference between loneliness and solitude, and through
that experience, I found my spirit. I breathed in the freedoms of
nature, from the still trees to the pulsing waters to the animals
wandering and the birds circling I learned lessons. It was here I
learned that I was drowning in a world I yet had a place to be. I
learned that my attachment to society thus far was through misplaced
connections to lost youths and their efforts to convert nothing to
profit through mischief, a recipe for disaster. I had no role model, and
as a teenager, no-one to identify with. I had no father to teach me what
life is, no-one to teach me a sense of manhood, of self-worth, or
responsibility. I needed someone who whether or not he knew the answers,
knew the questions.
I felt trapped,
desperate, so to this end I immersed myself in nature. But in the woods,
I was scared, hungry and alone. I looked to nature to teach me for
better or for worse. I saw that nature concerned itself with the
present. My naive logic accepted this present. In time, however, my mind
became restless, and I struggled to find a framework to understand the
world. I had had unsuccessful ventures into the structured learning and
my burden of prior mistakes limited my options. My curiosity and wonder
about the world was growing, the more I tried to understand, the more
unequipped I was. I was in a vicious cycle. It was here where I began to
again channel my energy to my love of aviation. And so at this time I
began to spend my time studying aeronautics and anything aviation. It
took living in solitude, without the chatter or activity of the world,
to come to peace, focus my mind and provide me with confidence to pursue
During the summer
and fall of 2008, I embarked on a personal journey that would pit me
face to face with my own mortality. I dedicated each day to bicycling
ten miles a day from a mountain campsite to Orcas Island Airport to see
planes taking off and landing and on several occasions I stole airplane
manuals. During the day I was perched on a cliff listening to NAV/COM
VHF airport frequencies which narrated the comings and goings of
airplanes at local airports.
I was infatuated
with airplane operations and dedicated my days and nights to learning
everything I could. The study of the manuals, navigation and avionics
manuals, and thousands of online videos of aircraft systems operations
through the eyes of the pilots were my school. I had never flown in an
airplane, no less in a plane while it took off, operated and landed. I
had never simulated its operation, but I had read dozens of books and
manuals and occupied my mind since I was in kindergarten with dreams of
being a pilot. The day came on November 11, 2008 when I was no longer
able to resist the pull of the airplane and my lifelong dream of flying.
This day and the
ensuing experience became the single most defming event and terrifying
day of my life. The conditions were such that an experienced pilot would
have known not to fly. However, I was not only untrained and
inexperienced, but blissfully unaware of the severity of the weather
that morning. The euphoria of the countdown to takeoff and the
realization of a dream was nearly blinding.
It prevented me
from taking seriously the impossible odds that stood against me. My
first thought after takeoff was 'Oh my God, I'm flying'. I had waited my
entire life for that moment. However, my second thought immediately
after was that I was probably going to die. For the first time in my
life I was not only free, but in full control of my fate.
Only then did I
see, with quite a shock, what I had gotten myself into. On top of that,
my GPS failed within minutes of taking off. Against 50+ MPH winds, IMC
conditions, and little more than two minutes of total flight time, I
piloted the plane through the predawn sky. Climbing to nearly 1 3,000FT,
headed southeast, I fought and flew for my life.
Flying solely off
my instruments, without GPS, I managed to climb to 13,000 FT. At this
altitude I was still in the clouds, though it wouldn't have mattered
considering the sun wouldn't be up for another hour. I continued
southeast, no longer over the waters of the Puget Sound, I was now over
the Cascade mountains.
untrained for instrument flight, I survived only by shear concentration
and determination, while trying to recall everything I've ever read
about instrument flying. However, I was in a situation you could never
prepare yourself for by reading about. Still battling 50 MPH winds and
severe turbulence, I fell victim to spatial disorientation; believing I
was in a descent, I put the airplane into a climb. My altitude went up,
my airspeed went down. The airplane quickly stalled, and I added
'untrained in spin recovery' to the list as the airplane skidded into a
spin towards the ground. Several seconds passed, and in that time I saw
my life ... I saw myself dead.
I saw what my life
was, what I hadn't yet achieved. I saw something that has forever
changed the way I see myself and the world. There hasn't been a single
day I have not thought about that morning. When that moment passed, I
took in the situation - the fact that I was in a spin towards the ground
somewhere over the Cascade mountains ... and I believe the shear
circumstance of the situation allowed what I can best describe as a
second-nature skill to come through. When it did, I operated the cockpit
with the speed and aim of an experienced pilot to regain control of the
I had never read
anything in detail about spin recovery, and to this day I remain
somewhat amazed I am still alive. Once I regained control of the
aircraft, I instantly began a climb - I had lost over half my altitude
and was now at 6,250 FT ... for all I know, mere hundreds of feet from
the ground. I do believe that I was sandwiched between mountains at that
point, once again having made it out of a situation all odds said I
The morning of
November 11, 2008 changed my life forever. I just recently had it
confirmed to me that it caused PTSD, something I always suspected.
Despite the violent-nature of near-death, I found myself. That event
opened my mind and gave me insight into not only myself, but the world;
valuable life lessons that I believe I couldn't have learned any other
way. It was through this discovery of both passion, and of a dream;
renewed spirit and fortified life that will keep me on a path of
honestly in the future. I realized that you only get one life.. .that
you have to have a purpose and drive; a life with meaning.
I did not grow up
in a middle class family to attend a picture perfect school, with
tutors, mother and father, and solutions to any teenage whim. This did
not give me the right to do what I did. While I recount these stories to
convey to Your Honor the extreme nature of my coming of age, I also
communicate this in hopes to present my conclusions of what this has
lessons learned on the backs of my victims is no excuse for my crimes,
it is these experiences that I have learned, nonetheless. Your Honor, I
don't know where I could have broken the cycle. Each step of the way, I
felt that I was more and more entrenched with a path, and the situation
had taken a life of its own.
of my past, which snowballed into new crimes to sustain my present, and
while I tried to distract myself with the dreams of the future, I am
before you know paying for all these mistakes. However, prior to being
"on the run", I had not yet discovered my spirit, I didn't know who I
was or what I stood for, except a pawn in the system. I felt there was
no meaning to my life. Today, I have something to live for. I cant
excuse how my journey was mixed with the mistakes and life changing
experiences. I can however, express my remorse, present to the court who
I am, ask for forgiveness and accept this fate.
I would like to
express my sincerest apologies to all victims. I had absolutely no right
to deprive my victims of their property or to enter their homes. I am
especially remorseful of the fear I caused in bedroom communities and I
am thankful that no individual was physically hurt by my actions.
Reading from the various police and media reports I have realized
something I both never fully considered, but was perhaps partially in
I realized with a
core feeling of remorse that I was responsible for a deep and absolute
fear in the community, and that I had caused uncertainty and trauma on
people I once called my neighbors.. .good people. People on different
islands and towns even feared - never knowing if the bump in the night
was a raccoon or a person. At the time I never took into consideration
what people must be feeling; I knew my intentions and that I would never
hurt anyone or intentionally scare someone, and I mistakenly assumed
people knew that as well. Knowing now what I never took into
consideration, I have vowed NEVER again to be responsible for a persons
fear or trauma.
There are in fact
no words sufficient to describe the level of remorse or the feelings I
have about myself. A local blogger once described my breaking into homes
as, "terrorizing local residents". When I read that, I dismissed the
article as a dramatization, convincing myself that people don't really
feel that way. I know now that people did in fact feel terrorized..
.scared in their own homes. I can only try to put into mere words my
feelings on the matter, and the loss of self-respect after having been
responsible for that.
To this end, I
have plead guilty and accepted responsibility for these actions. I am
sorry to the communities of Camano Island and Orcas Island specifically.
I would like to extend specific apologies to the following individuals:
Bob Rivers; Marion Wrathbone; Kyle Ater; Mike Parnell and his family; My
neighbor Carol Star; Ted Lavigne; The Linnes citizens; My neighbors the
Pettyjohn family; The Wagner family; The Free family; The Muscolo
family; The Sears family; The Gleyre and Glover families; Mr. and Mrs.
McKee; Mr. and Mrs. Pearson; Mr. Nestor; And Mrs. Olsen.
I would also like
to extend my apologies to the following entities: Ace Hardware; The Port
of Orcas and Eastsound Airport; And the Island County and San Juan
County Sheriffs Office, who I know were only doing their jobs.
Everything I have done since has been to achieve my personal goal of
making things right with the victims in any way that's within my
I have signed a
contract with 20th Century Fox, and have promised to direct all proceeds
from the contract to victims of my crimes, with my assurances that I
will not make a dime from any telling of my story. My concern was never
to personally profit in any way. While monetary restitution has been
tended to in principle, I am focusing my efforts now to rebuild trust,
and again make right the wrongs, pay my debt to society, rebuild my
education and perhaps from a new position of strength, reemerge a new
Your Honor, the
term of my sentence which you will hand down, I will serve with
humility. I was wrong and I made mistakes beyond what words can express.
The indelible mark I made on the communities and the fear I caused
homeowners, there is no going back. Through this experience many
individuals have sought to contact me to offer aid, advice, comfort, and
fill a void that I have lacked all my life.
I have been
absolutely shocked and surprised by the compassion people abroad and
especially people from Camano and Orcas have shown me. This compassion
and forgiveness too has changed my life. With your sentence, I pray that
you allow me the chance to regain my freedom, change my life through my
own actions, and continue to right wrongs. I know that it is not too
While I am
incarcerated, I will continue to study and complete my formal education
any way I can, preparing for application to an accredited aviation
college for aeronautical engineering and aviation science. I will use
this time to read and enhance my communication skills, where
articulation is best merely written. I will develop bonds with people
who are positive influences on me and are aligned with my goals of
pursuing and education and founding an aircraft design and manufacturing
corporation. I will continue to write and correspond with the
individuals who have been inspired by my story with lessons learned, for
example, not to view me as a role model or what the media has created,
but instead to learn form my mistakes and follow their own dreams.
After I serve my
sentence, I have new support structures to ensure that I am without
desperate need. And as an adult, I am able to build bonds without fear
of previous parental vetoes. Those individuals who have changed my life
for the better range from my attorneys, John Henry Browne, Emma Scanlan,
and Lance Rosen, whose compassion led them to accept this case, and
whose advice and mentorship I will always appreciate and treasure, to my
close friend Nathalie, who allows me to share my innermost thoughts
without fear of trespass. Also, my childhood-friend Anne; My aunt and
uncle Sandi and Doug Puttmann, who could have perhaps kept me from the
path I blindly went but unfortunately were not allowed much access by my
mom; Bev and Geof Davis, who also tried to be there but were drove off
by my mom, and have since opened their summer home to me upon release;
Gary McMaster; Ryan Kelly; John Farmer; Lisa Morton; Kristilee Williams;
Shauna Snyder, and Erin Ando.
Century Fox and Dustin Lance Black, who have provided me an invaluable
view into the world of business and professionalism - and Dustin, who
has provided me with inspiration he perhaps doesn't know he has passed
along. And many others who have been there to offer support and
resources through my time incarcerated and beyond, and the hundreds of
people from Camano and Orcas who have written letters and have simply
Your Honor, these
people form the basis of my support network, something I have lacked to
this point. These people and businesses all have intentions and
interests in my well being outside the criminal system. My support
system has organically formed to provide me with an infrastructure to
follow my goals and dreams. With a reasonable sentence, I will be able
to attend college far beyond what I am able to learn or have access to
in the detention system.
Attending aeronautical engineering college, earning my private pilots license and professional test pilot certificate, and developing my personal passion for aircraft design through an enterprise are among a few goals I have for myself. Given my age and the non-violent nature of my crimes, I pray the court can see that a lengthy sentence is not as positive for me or the community as some type of service I can provide to the community at large. I hope that one day I can return to the community some benefit when I am able to better myself through education and achievement. I believe I can still follow my dream if I am not sentenced to wasteful years behind bars.
Your Honor, I have spent weeks thoughtfully writing this letter. Many of the things I have spoken about I have never told anyone, nor is it public information. I hope that nothing I have said is misconstrued - though I described in detail my first flying experience, in no way whosoever am I "glamorizing" that event or anything else I have done. Itruly hope that I was able to clearly articulate what I feel for my victims and have learned over the past four years. Please know that this letter comes from the bottom of my heart, with the deepest of sincerity. I plead that Your Honor find compassion and have mercy.Respectfully submitted, Colton Harris-Moore (see Copy of letter PDF file)
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