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.


  1. How do you feel about Colt's assertion that he doesn't want his story told? Do you think this is a legal angle or do you think he is wanting privacy about his escapes? When you write/publish/release your book are you concerned about his wishes? Your blog is very interesting. Thank you, Rachael

  2. Multi-parter...

    Yes, there is definitely a legal angle to not wanting a full story out there. The defense's job in a case like this is to create a narrative that helps the defendant. The full story may or may not help that case...

    We know Colton was in touch with people along the way and there may have been people helping him and/or sheltering him at times. I suspect Colton doesn't want to get them in trouble. He won't have a choice in that, though, if the crime lab can find anything on the electronics he was carrying at the time of his capture.

    Colton has become a public figure. You don't do some of these things he's done without expecting to get attention. Remember, he once told his mom to put the gate out by the driveway because I'm going to do something that will have the place crawling with paparazzi!

    That said, I do believe everyone is entitled to some privacy. There could be something I uncover in my research that I felt didn't relate in any way to this story, any crimes, any facet of all this. And if that was something that someone (including Colt or one of my sources) would wish to keep to themselves, I would respect that.

  3. Hi Bob,thank you for updating this very interesting blog. I was wondering if you knew anything, or were allowed to say anything, about Colton's current mental/physical state.

    I read in his 2007 Psychological Evaluation (published on CNN, of all places...) that he suffered from a chronic state of depression, significant anxiety, insomnia, etc. - but these symptoms were alleviated when he was on runaway. Not surprisingly, they became much worse while being in detention.

    I'm just hoping he's doing okay at SeaTac.

    (Re. Anon's comments/accusations: I think it should be more than obvious by now that you empathize with the victims, and want to offer an unfiltered, balanced story. Perhaps you should tack on a disclaimer at the top of your blog: "Heartless folks, please read no further, you'll just get pissed off.")

  4. Unfortunately, I can't give a definitive, firsthand report on Colton's mental/physical state at this moment. From what I've heard secondhand, though, he was doing okay as of last week. I will post more when I get an update.

    I haven't re-re-read those reports in awhile, but my recollection is that one said that Colton claimed he actually slept better while in prison than at home... He's a night owl when on his own, but once he gets acclimated to the schedule, it sounds like he sleeps okay.

    Re the disclaimer: Not a bad idea, though I do find a lot of the reaction fascinating. I guess there's always been a percentage of people who have their minds made up before they know the facts -- and then just ignore anything contrary to their positions -- but it does seem that it's gotten worse these days. More people are on a hair-trigger. It's gotta be black and white, "You're either for us or agin' us."

    What bothered me about "people here on the island demand to know..." is that all it would have taken was a phone call or a "Hey Bob" in the market or at the hardware store. I guarantee that if Anon has been here six months or more, we know someone in common. It would have been very easy for them to find out the truth (of course the easiest way would have been to read my posts more carefully).

  5. I suspect the Anon comment is a relatively isolated remark. You have always shown empathy toward the victims. You are a great writer because you are trying to understand all sides of this story and that is why we all keep coming back to read. Of course, Anon might be simply trying to take a bit of wind out of your sails. Fly, Bob, Fly!

  6. When you are 8 or 10 years old, sleeping out is an adventure. At 12 or 14 itis escaping from a situation. At 16 itbecomes taking a stand. At 18 it is more a symptom of being lost. Our barefoot bandit, unfortunately, has grown out of all these stages and has no control whatsoever over what will happen to him over the next few years.

    On the surface it's inevitable. If found guilty, or if he pleads guilty, he will face a period of incarceration. If he ends up convicted of multiple charges, or in multiple juristictions, he will face much time. I think we all can feel an empathy for how this will affect him.

    When childhood escapades become adult crimes with significant property damage and possible endangerment, out empathy goes two ways; both for the boy he was and for the victims of the man he is. It will be taken into consideration that there could have been many more victims. A more serious plane crash comes to mind.

    What began as juvenille behaviour became adult misbehavioiur, and this is the tradgedy, a runaway situation with the tracks going nowhere and no way to get off. Clayton's best chance, oddly, was in the juvenille detention unit he ran away from. That was the one time to step back and say 'It's over.'

    Pity he couldn't. Pity the system didn't work for him either. Too bad he must pay the adult price of being a boy running away from life. I fear it may be much too high a price.

  7. Bob, what is your opinion of other writers "professional" stances about colt's escapades? I recently read this in Everett Herald.

  8. That wasn an opinion piece and everyone is entitled to theirs. I agree with a lot of what is written there: I've talked on these pages about Colton's choices, and I tried to make the case to him to turn himself in before things escalated even further.

    I genuinely wish every kid like Colton could find that father figure, coach, teacher, mentor... someone with a firm, fair hand and guiding principles at important phases in their lives. Every hardluck story that turns positive usually has a figure like that involved. It's hard for me to blame a kid for not finding that on his own at six or eight or ten years old, though.

    Anyone who's read my posts will know that I've said a number of times that I don't believe you can look at people and judge them in black and white. However, the writer is not quite saying to do that. He is, I believe, talking from the law-and-order perspective that has been totally valid for law enforcement all along: Without a doubt, Colton committed at least one crime (leaving the group home before his sentence was up). He needed to be arrested or turn himself in. That is black and white.

    Now he's in the justice system. Just like every other individual who stands accused of a crime in this country, he deserves a vigorous defense. In our system, that can include arguing that there were mitigating circumstances. Colton's lawyers will argue that there was a reason he left the group home, a reason he kept running, perhaps a reason all this started in the first place. Federal and/or local prosecutors will counter with evidence that they believe negates all that and proves crimes.

    There will either be deals or trials... or maybe both: A federal deal and county trials.

    I'm a firm believer in criminals being ordered to pay restitution. Unfortunately, it often doesn't work well, in practice. But IF Colton was found guilty of crimes where restitution could be made to the victims and if he could pay that out of any media deals her or his family makes, then I think that works. It would prove that crime doesn't actually pay, it would make victims whole, and once whatever debt to society is paid, then Colt would have the chance, once again, to make choices and prove himself...

    As a side note: I do wish that writers would distinguish between criminals doing books or whatever else, and legitimate media. I haven't heard of the tv stations or newspapers who've run countless Barefoot Bandit stories (all of which attract more viewers than any book will) giving or being asked to give the attendant advertising income to crime victims (nor should they; we need legitimate media to report news stories and they have to support themselves).

    And here's a little shout out to some of the media who have come to Orcas Island and made a point of spending their money in the crime victim's restaurants and shops (which I do every week): Good for you.

  9. Hey, Bob. Congratulations on the book deal and thumbs up for all the hard work you've done (and are continuing to do) on this great story. I hope you'll do some book signings around your old stomping grounds of Central Florida.

  10. Very well written as usual. I for one know that if you are at Homecoming in one of the many settlements on Lutra and indulge in a (few) Rum Bubba's you would be fast asleep on a couch.
    Looking forward to more information as it comes in.
    Lynn in Atlanta and South Point Eleuthera

  11. Bob, has the publisher given you money to travel across the USA to interview victims from WA to Indiana? The book just wouldn't be complete without tracing his steps and interviewing those involved.

  12. Hyperion gave me a portion of an advance -- it's up to me how to use it while I'm writing the book... eat, pay my mortgage, etc... They don't include separate money for expenses, so all the travel, office, research and any other expenses are out of pocket (mine), including last-minute tickets to the Bahamas and hotels at rack rate, which were tough to swallow. But yes, absolutely, I am interviewing everyone I possibly can along his entire trail -- victims, law enforcement, anyone who had any Colton encounters.

  13. I see that you haven't updated in a while, but any news about Colt? I read that the judge a deadline for Nov. 15th where has to be officially charged. Any information about his trial or how he is doing?

  14. Yep, very busy working on the book and haven't been able to post. I'm still digging up interesting new details almost daily for the book.

    Investigations on Federal, State and local levels are in high gear as are preparations for Colt's defense. At this point, it looks like there may be at least five interstate crimes where they've got forensic evidence against him, and 20 to 30 local felony charges where prosecutors feel confident enough to move forward.

    Colton is still only allowed to see immediate family and his lawyers, but he has gotten word out that he's trying to stay positive through all of this.