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Last published at August 10, 2009 at 11:00 PM

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Teen wanted in Camano Island burglaries may be at it again

The Island County Sheriff's Office suspects a teen wanted in a spat of Camano Island burglaries in 2008 is back and responsible for some of the 40 residential burglaries since May.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Last summer, Colton Harris-Moore was the target of a manhunt after Camano Island authorities said the teen burglarized homes, stole and subsequently crashed a Mercedes-Benz and even left behind photos of himself on a stolen digital camera.

Wanted signs, featuring his photo, were plastered across the 40-square-mile island, but he never was found. Island County authorities suspected he may have left the island where he had grown up.

A year later, a recent spate of burglaries at vacation homes on south Camano Island has Island County Sheriff Mark Brown suspecting Harris-Moore — now 18 — is back. While Brown does not believe Harris-Moore is responsible for all of the nearly 40 residential burglaries since May, the sheriff says he is certain some can be linked to the teen.

"We're smart enough to say this seems to be the work of Colton," Brown said. "Strong evidence indicates it, and I would be stupid to look the other way."

Brown said he suspects Harris-Moore is working harder to avoid arrest because he is now adult — meaning a conviction could result in prison time, not time in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facility.

In June 2007, Harris-Moore pleaded guilty to three counts of residential burglary — he originally had been charged with 23 counts — and was sentenced to nearly three years behind bars. He was sent to Green Hill School in Chehalis, but in February 2008 was moved to Griffin Home, a minimum-security facility in Renton. He escaped from the facility before a nighttime bed check two months later and has been wanted on an arrest warrant ever since.

Island County sheriff's deputies say Harris-Moore returned to Camano Island after fleeing from the halfway house and started breaking into homes. Investigators said he was believed to be climbing onto roofs, unscrewing skylights and dropping through them.

He also stole a Mercedes-Benz from his mother's neighbor, Island County sheriff's investigators said. On the night of July 17, 2008, when a sheriff's deputy tried to stop the Mercedes, Harris-Moore jumped from the moving car, which struck a trash bin and clipped a propane line outside the Elger Bay Café, investigators said.

During a search of recovered stolen items, Island County deputies found photos the teen had snapped with a stolen digital camera. One photo showed the teen lying in the woods dressed in a collared shirt with a Mercedes-Benz emblem on the chest.

Island County Juvenile Deputy Prosecutor Peter Simpson charged Harris-Moore with 10 criminal counts in March for the July 2008 crime spree. Simpson said charges include vehicle theft, attempting to elude police, malicious mischief, identity theft, theft and possession of stolen property.

Simpson said Harris-Moore also is wanted for failing to appear at an arraignment for the charges. He said Harris-Moore will be prosecuted as an adult for the crimes.

Brown, the sheriff, remained vague about the recent burglaries, including a June 19 car prowl outside an Island County deputy's home, and why he has linked them to Harris-Moore. Items stolen from the deputy's patrol cruiser included a laptop, cellphone, digital camera and an assault rifle.

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"We're not going to disclose evidence we have until the case is complete," sheriff's Detective Ed Wallace said. "We are using it to track different people."

One reason why Brown refuses to say much about Harris-Moore is because he believes the teen has been viewed sympathetically by residents and some in the media.

"We're making him a cult hero," Brown complained. "He turned 18 in March, and he's an adult criminal. My hope is he gets caught and goes to prison where he belongs."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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