Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Nasty little things, those facts.

First, an apology to all those who haven’t seen their comments and questions posted. It looks like almost all of them came in while I was in the Bahamas and that, to put it mildly, was a crazy time. I’m just getting caught up now.

The most interesting of the new old comments came from someone who says they live here on Orcas Island. It was anonymous. Whoever you are, Anon, I’d be happy to talk in depth about all your… well, it’s tough to call them questions, they’re more accusations.

In short, Anon is saying — with many serial question marks and exclamation points — that it’s way beyond coincidental that Colt flew to the Bahamas where I’ve been traveling to for so many years. And then he/she says inquiring minds on Orcas demand to know why if Colt drove a boat up to where I was standing why wasn’t I the one to pick up my cell phone and call the cops??? And says that it’s pretty clear that I didn’t because it was more important for me to take notes for my book.

Anon closes by saying: “The people who occupy this island, that unwittingly became his victims for the total of the 6 months that he was here, deserve to know the answer to that, Mr. Friel. You live on Orcas Island. And so do many of his victims!!!”

First, Anon: Your facts are totally wrong. I wasn’t there when Colt drove up in a boat and talked to people. Maybe since you’ve sent in that comment you've gone back and re-read that, and you now comprehend it better so I won’t belabor the point, but, briefly: I had been on that concrete dock — the Three Island ferry dock on North Eleuthera — earlier in the evening to interview ferry drivers who’d had their boats damaged, and the manager of a nearby bar that had been broken into. It wasn’t until hours after I’d gone that Colt drove up in the dinghy and had the conversation with a few Bahamians, including a guy I then interviewed the next morning (after the capture) on Harbour Island.

Depending on the exact timing of things, I was either at the street festival at The Bluff (it was the Bahamas Independence celebration and what they call “Homecoming” at The Bluff) or most probably, since more witnesses are saying it was around midnight, I was sacked out on a friend’s couch in Gregory Town by the time people saw and interacted with Colt.

Those are just nasty facts. It was never reported any different — not by me and not by the dozen or so reporters who’ve all interviewed the guys who were actually standing on that dock talking to Colt. Check the newspaper stories: there are no reports of any sleep-deprived, jet-lagged, six-foot white guys standing there chatting with him.

Since you live on an island, you know how nasty rumors can get started by having one person either mishear or misread or whatever they do to ignore the facts. I hope that hasn’t happened here on Orcas. [And a note to the rest of my readers out there who don’t live here: Sorry this is kind of a silly and very defensive post, but islands are unique places to live. Wonderful, but they can also be very intense in a very, very small town gossipy kind of way.]

Anon, if you’ve read much of my blog, you also realize that berating me on behalf of the victims of Orcas is ridiculous. Go count how many times I’ve mentioned the victims of Orcas… and of Camano… and others. Or, better yet, since you’re here, go talk to them. There are still several on my list to go, but other than those, I’ve already talked to or requested interviews with all the rest of the crime victims here in order to tell their stories.

You say: “I have believed from the git-go that you have a sympathic propensity for the Barefoot Bandit.”

I think I’ve explained, probably to the point of boring the readers, what I believe is necessary to understand this story. It’s the same thing you need to understand anything that involves other people: Empathy. That goes for everyone involved or you have no hope in understanding anything and certainly no hope of telling a story that's fair to everyone involved. And I doubt I’ve ever mentioned the word empathy without saying that I empathize with the victims.

It’s interesting that I’ve taken heat from people on both sides of this. I’ve never tried to convince anyone to either love or hate Colton Harris-Moore. My job, as I see it, is to tell this story using facts with as much context as possible. Colton didn’t spring to life as a 17-year-old airplane thief. He came from somewhere, he interacted with people all his life, he was part of our society. That’s part of the story, as are the crimes, the victims, the chases, the capture. 

I’ll tell the story, the unfiltered good, bad and ugly on both sides. That’s the only way anyone will be able to make a reasonable decision about how they feel about all this, and the only way to have a rational discussion of all these issues that Colton’s story touches on. Facts.

And lastly, ascribing a profit motive to anything I’ve done or not done is also ridiculous. This is what I do for a living — and have been doing it for 25 years. I’m a writer. I’m writing. I’m not a roofer who suddenly said “Yee haw, I’m gonna write me a book ‘bout this barefootin’ feller and make me a bazillion bucks!” [And that’s no offense to roofers… Back in Philadelphia I worked four college summers as a roofer. And none of them ever said “Yee haw.” Maybe one said “Yo haw” (that’s a Philly joke).] My book advance, spread over the amount of time I’ll be working on this project, puts me squarely in the middle class (which as you know, Anon, is lower middle class on Orcas).

Wow, this is a long, whiny post. Sorry for that. And I still didn’t get to the one actual interesting question: Why did Colt go to the Bahamas? The obvious answer is that it’s a huge conspiracy to sell newspapers, books and Caribbean vacations. Colt’s answer, of course, is that it’s because his research told him that the islands of the Bahamas have a lot of airfields and marinas, and few police officers. And he was right; those are facts.