Mother of teen thief fears for son

The mother of Colton Harris-Moore — the notorious 18-year-old Camano Island serial burglar who has become a cult hero to some — said Monday that if her son indeed fired a shot in the woods while deputies investigated a Granite Falls burglary Sunday night, “I don’t expect him to come out alive.”

Whoever fired the shot managed to elude an 181/2 — hour search that involved more than three dozen officers, as well as search dogs and a helicopter equipped with infrared heat sensors.

The search was called off at 4:30 p.m. Monday, said Rebecca Hover, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies will follow up on any new leads today.

Pam Kohler, Harris-Moore’s mother, said she didn’t know if her son was the person who stole basic-needs items such as blankets, shoes and food from a family home along Menzel Lake Road.

“But if he did shoot that gun, it was really stupid,” she said. “That gives the cops a reason to shoot him.”

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said it has no suspects in the burglary and doesn’t know who fired the shot.

But Harris-Moore’s name comes up seemingly every time a burglar flees into the woods, or when a stolen plane crash-lands — as it did last week, four miles from the burglary scene.

There was speculation that Harris-Moore, who has been suspected at times of climbing onto roofs, unscrewing skylights and dropping through them, may have learned to fly from flight-training manuals and searching the Internet.

“If he really flew those planes,” Kohler said, “I’m proud of him. I was going to send him to flight school. I guess I don’t have to. I’d tell him that the next time he took a plane, wear a parachute and practice your landing.”

The youth has been a fugitive since he walked out of a Renton juvenile security facility in April 2008. He had pleaded guilty to three counts of residential burglary, although he originally was charged with 23 counts.

Jon Zerby, undersheriff for San Juan County, where Harris-Moore has been blamed for late-night break-ins, boat heists and two plane thefts, said the possible use of a gun “kind of ups the ante.”

Burglary and theft are Harris-Moore’s forte — and so is his ability to elude police. He has been the focus of a manhunt on Camano Island and the San Juan Islands. Officials in San Juan County suspect he may be involved in two plane thefts there that ended in crash-landings.

Kohler, who lives on Camano Island, said she feared for her son unless he goes to an attorney and turns himself in before there is an encounter with officers.

“I fear for his safety,” she said.

Kohler said she last talked to her son by phone a few weeks ago.

Kohler wouldn’t say what they talked about, but, she said, “He keeps me on the phone for hours, one time until 4:30 in the morning. I got up and cooked breakfast while I was talking to him. We’re very close.”

Contrary to what some think, she said, Harris-Moore has not been living in the wild, although she said he might be doing that now.

Kohler said her son is staying with a family and “does computer work for them.” She said she doesn’t know where the family lives, “and I like it that way. If the cops question me, I can’t give them any information.”

Hover said the Granite Falls burglary was reported about 8 p.m. Sunday, when a family returned home.

She said deputies, along with a K-9 dog, searched a wooded area behind the house and found some of the stolen items.

It was during the search that someone fired a shot, although it’s not clear whether it was aimed at officers. No one was hurt.

“But it was close, and they felt threatened,” Hover said. She said officers had identified themselves, so “we believe the suspect knew it was the police.”

If the suspect was Harris-Moore, this would be the first time a gun was fired.

Last Thursday, a single-engine Cessna 182 Turbo plane, reported stolen from North Idaho, landed in a clear-cut near Granite Falls.

The Federal Aviation Administration said only one person apparently was aboard when the plane crashed after running out of fuel. The pilot then apparently fled.

Harris-Moore’s mother lives in a mobile home on Camano Island that has “No Trespassing” signs posted around it. She said the youth’s father left when Harris-Moore was a baby and she raised him alone.

She said her son always was in trouble with authority figures, whether teachers or police.

“He’s a victim of the system, the school system, the social-service system,” Kohler said. She said she took him to a hospital years ago to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. “They wouldn’t accept his insurance,” she said.

Kohler said she didn’t understand why her son had gained a following.

On the Internet, a picture of a T-shirt shows the youth’s mug shot (a now-famous self-portrait of the teenager lying in the woods) that he took of himself with a stolen camera.

The T-shirt has the slogan: “Momma tried. Colton Harris-Moore.”

On one Web site, there is a forum in which a news story about the youth is discussed. “What a badass,” said a commenter going by the name, Resident Evil.

Kohler said her son has eluded officers “because he’s smart. He did take an IQ test, and he’s three points below Einstein.”

In Granite Falls on Monday, two 11-year-old middle-school girls were talking about the news that had hit their small community.

“A kid that young shouldn’t be doing this kind of stuff,” Madi Matronic said.

Said her friend, Madi Devine-Merrifeild: “I can’t believe he did it by himself.”

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