According to the Associated Press, Colton Harris-Moore, popularly known as the Barefoot Bandit, pleaded guilty in a Bahamas court on Tuesday to the minor crime of illegally entering the country. He will soon be deported to the United States, where he will face charges relating to his alleged two-year crime spree. Moore stood shackled and smiling as the Bahaman judge read his sentence. Additional charges of illegal weapons possession were dropped.
The 19-year-old fugitive has been on the run since 2008, when he escaped from a juvenile detention facility in Washington. Following a string of property crimes and car, boat and plane thefts which he is alleged to have committed, Harris-Moore fled to the Bahamas. He was dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” because of his proclivity for committing crimes while shoeless. Adding to the Barefoot Bandit mystique, in February, it is alleged he drew a chalk outline of feet at the scene of a grocery store robbery in Washington.
Last week, authorities in the Bahamas began searching for Harris-Moore after he allegedly crashed a plane on Great Abaco Island. His crime in the Bahamas carries a $300 fine, which is expected to be paid by the U.S. Embassy.
ABC News is reporting that the capture of the Barefoot Bandit is drawing cheers and sympathy from the public. Barefoot Bandit fans back in the U.S. are said to be saddened by Harris-Moore’s capture. Washington business owner and alleged Barefoot Bandit victim Kyle Ater says he is shocked by the reaction. He noted that many of those saddened by the arrest seemed to be teenage girls who were infatuated with Harris-Moore.
A Barefoot Bandit Facebook page has over 75,000 fans and growing. Facebook comments following Harris-Moore’s arrest illustrated the support of his fans:
“Dude bummer that u got caught but u made history and no one will forget that,” one fan wrote. Internet fans of the Barefoot Bandit have also begun collecting money for Moore’s defense, and there is talk of movie and book deals in the works.
The case of the Barefoot Bandit brings to mind the curious turn the Joran Van Der Sloot case has taken recently. According to CBS News, Van Der Sloot’s popularity in the U.S. is on the rise, at least with women. He has received dozens of marriage proposals, even as he sits behind bars in a Peruvian prison. He also receives fan letters and has several websites and Facebook pages devoted to him. But, Van Der Sloot’s online popularity isn’t all in support of the accused murderer. The vast majority of people seem to be appalled by Van Der Sloot. Still, support for him continues to grow.
Like Barefoot Bandit Colton Harris-Moore, Amanda Knox has elicited both outrage at her crime and calls for her release. Convicted in an Italian court of murder for the death of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, Knox has a following in the thousands on Facebook. There is even a free Amanda movement. The website Amanda Knox Defense Fund is a place where friends and supporters can gather. The website also accepts donations for Knox’s defense.
So, why do people support and become fans of alleged criminals like the Barefoot Bandit, Joran Van Der Sloot and Amanda Knox? One answer may be that they look like such nice, sweet, innocent kids, no different really than other teens across the U.S. It is hard for people to believe that these ordinary kids could commit such heinous crimes. People want to believe that there must be some mistake, some conspiracy. The alternative gives an uneasy feeling: Could the kid down the block or, worse, across the breakfast table have the same potential to be a killer or burglar?
In an interview with the CBS Early Show, criminologist Jack Levin offered another reason:
“These are our new celebrities, the notorious killers. We place them on the cover of our celebrity magazines, trading cards, t shirts.”
The difference is that these “celebrities” are much more accessible to the average person. Brad Pitt will most likely not respond personally to a fan letter, but Joran Van Der Sloot might. Supporters of Amanda Knox may actually get personal contact from her friend or family member.
While certainly Moore’s alleged crimes are not on par with those of Joran Van Der Sloot or Amanda Knox, he finds himself with the same curious infamous celebrity status as the alleged murderers. While the eventual fate of these three young people may remain to be seen, one thing is certain. As long as the public has an appetite for turning alleged criminals into heroes and heartthrobs, this trend will continue to be with us for a long time to come.