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Police end search for suspect near Granite Falls

Mon., Oct. 5, 2009, 5:08 p.m.

SEATTLE — If it was the notorious teen burglar, he got away again.

Dozens of police combed thick forest near the small town of Granite Falls on Sunday night and Monday, after a shot was fired near deputies responding to a break-in. But they called the search off Monday afternoon without finding their suspect.

Because the break-in occurred near where a stolen plane from Idaho crash-landed last week, detectives thought it might have been the work of 18-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, a prolific burglar from Camano Island who may have stolen three airplanes in the past year.

“Obviously we’re aware of what everyone’s talking about, but deputies didn’t see him, and so until we make an arrest and know who it is, we can’t say,” said Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Rebecca Hover.

Harris-Moore was first convicted at age 12 and is suspected in nearly 50 cases since he snuck out the window of a halfway house in April 2008. He is believed to have taken and hard-landed two airplanes from the San Juan Islands in the past year before stealing a boat and making his way to Point Roberts, a nub of land in the northwest corner of Washington that’s an easy walk from the Canadian border.

In the days before the Cessna was taken from the Bonners Ferry airport in Idaho last Tuesday, burglaries were reported at the Creston, British Columbia, airport, 35 miles north. Several planes were moved around, and a car was stolen and later found about a quarter-mile from the U.S. border, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sgt. Gordon Stewart said Monday.

Another car was stolen on the other side of the border and ditched at the Bonners Ferry airport. Pat Gardiner, who owns the Cessna, said on Monday that his hangar and a few others were broken into over the Sept. 26-27 weekend; all that was taken was a Leatherman utility tool.

Gardiner bought a new lock, and his hangar was promptly broken into again late on Sept. 28 or early on Sept. 29. This time, his plane was taken. A logger found it Thursday, 260 miles to the west on a path toward Harris-Moore’s Camano Island hometown.

According to an insurance adjuster who reviewed the damage from the crash-landing, whoever stole the plane started it with a screwdriver, Gardiner said. The plane, which appeared to have run out of gas, was totaled.

Gardiner said he’d be surprised if someone with no training could fly the Cessna as far as it went, but he also noted that the fuel mix and propeller levers in the cockpit were pulled all the way out when the plane crashed, rather than pushed in, as landing instructions would indicate.

Perhaps telling is that there were bare footprints inside and outside the hangars that had been broken into at Bonners Ferry; Harris-Moore earned himself the nickname of “the barefoot burglar” by committing some of his other crimes barefoot. In one hangar, Gardiner said, the footprints were on the wall — the suspect had put his feet up, apparently while eating.

The Snohomish County sheriff’s office SWAT team searched for the burglary suspect through the night Sunday before being relieved by the Everett police SWAT team Monday morning. The Sheriff’s Office helicopter, whose thermal imaging system had trouble penetrating the thick forest canopy, was replaced by a Blackhawk helicopter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Harris-Moore’s mother, Pam Kohler, said she has periodically spoken with her son by phone, but hadn’t heard from him this weekend or on Monday.

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