Why Do We Tolerate Parents Who Let Kids Go ‘Barefoot’?

by Diane Dimond on July 19, 2010

Did We Fail the 'Barefoot Bandit' Too?

Across the country these days – in every village, town, city and state – there is a collective effort to slash operating budgets. That’s probably a wise thing given the state of the economy. But as we make choices about what gets cut back and what doesn’t, I hope we remember the children.

19 year old Colton Harris-Moore underscores my point precisely. You may know him as the so-called Barefoot Bandit, the catchy little name the media applied to what is obviously a very troubled kid. If Colton’s home state of Washington had had enough money and determination to protect him from a sub-standard upbringing way back when, scores of people might never have been victimized by this kid.

His childhood reads like something out of Dickens.

Colton Harris-Moore's Trailer Home in Camano Island, Washington

His parents are reported to have been abusive and neglectful, addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. His father was imprisoned when Colton was about two years old. His stepfather apparently died when he was 7 and after that the young boy left the family trailer and started living out in the wild near his home in Camano Island, Washington – alone. He would be gone for weeks at a time and to survive he broke in to vacation homes to steal the essentials. In the early days, police said, Colton simply ate some food and soaked in the homeowner’s bathtub. Later he would steal more valuable things like tools, credit cards, cash and vehicles.

By the time Colton was 12 he’d been convicted of stealing and several more convictions soon followed. He was always punished with community service or a short stay in a detention center and then he would be sent home again. When the state required him to submit to psychiatric evaluation he reportedly revealed the sad state of his home life. And, back in 2004 he told his school principal (who had confronted him for allegedly stealing school electronics) that “he could not stop stealing and he did not know why.”

In other words Colton Harris-Moore needed outside help for a long time. And for a long time – longer than the 19 year old Colton has been alive – this country’s social welfare network has lacked the authority, manpower and will to decide, “This child needs to be removed in order to thrive.”

Early Mug Shot of Colton Harris Moore

We hesitate. We give offending parents chance after chance and in the final analysis it is always the child that suffers. More often than we care to admit the neglected and abused child is forced to turn to crime to survive. Youthful stealing, prostitution, and drug abuse and drug dealing are the most often seen side effects. By the time they’re old enough to vote their lives are on a ruinous path.

In April, 2008 Colton was serving a three year sentence at a half-way house in Renton, Washington on a triple felony conviction when he simply walked away one day. His two year, cross-continent flight led this victimized child to victimize dozens of others. Police suspect him of stealing at least five small airplanes, at least two cars and a boat and he could be charged with as many as 100 home home break-ins in some half a dozen states.

His mother’s response on CNN? She said she was, “Proud of him, ‘cause I was going to try to buy him flying lessons some day.” She’s hired an entertainment attorney to see if she can make some money selling her son’s story to television or the movies.

His Mother's Message to Outsiders After His Capture

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Not by the mother’s actions, nor the media’s sensational coverage of young Colton’s fugitive crime spree. News coverage very nearly glamorizes what he’s done, they tout his “boundless gumption”, his “Robin Hood like status” and the 85 thousand “friends” he has on his Facebook page. They nearly chuckle when they report that a South Dakota couple came home last month to find a naked Colton fresh from their shower.  Somehow the sadness of all of it has escaped his Mom and the media as this young boy’s future prospects are over. He is going to jail for a long time.

Make no mistake. I am not overly sympathetic to a person who breaks into homes, steals from others, fraudulently uses homes and credit cards and habitually crash lands airplanes. On his Facebook page, right under his photograph, it reads: “Colt is the real life 21st century outlaw. The world is his playground.” Cocky stuff but in the world of these throw-away kids it’s either be continue to be victimized or cop an attitude.

Colton Harris-Moore stands 6 foot 5 – but somehow no one in authority saw him as the needy kid he was.

The young man’s odyssey ended with his recent arrest in the Bahamas (where he is reported to have crash landed a plane he stole in Indiana and was arrested on board a stolen boat) and people ask, “Gee, how did this kid do it all these years?”

The better question might be, “How did we allow this kid to live like this all these years?”

Fellow crime and justice writer David Lohr has an interesting take on this same topic – focusing on the security angle. Check it out here.

Associated Press Mapped His Activity

Diane July 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Facebook Friend David Townsend writes:

” What everyone forgets is he was armed when he was arrested. he broke into housed, businesses, he is lucky he was not killed or had to use the weapon. Then everyone would not be so entertained by his story!”

Diane July 19, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Facebook Friend Don McMillan writes:

“Sorry Ms. D . . this is the ONE time I disagree with you. I was raised in an Orphanage after losing TWO sets of parents as a young child. Earned a scholarship to college but did not finish. At any rate, have NEVER been convicted of even a misdemeanor in 44 yrs since then so I have little sympathy for people who see crime as a shortcut in life. Try to get in a school, or take an honest job at least. Sorry, Life is not Fair. :(“

Diane July 19, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Facebook Friend Ronald Jeffries Tallman writes:

” Hmmm…here is the other side ; was not aware of this angle. Almost feel as tho Mother is most to blame. (The kid did something upon arrest that tells me he is quite troubled and not happy at all.)

This part of the story is of more interest to me and has much more to it than the things he did to others. All downhill for him (them) now on their end of it. I have (maybe had) some of the myopia but it is from what I read and watch and what they say.

DD once again you are finding items not seen or heard or of interest maybe to the others (writers, writer, public, ect)…and completing the package to these stories. Per Paul Harvey “The Rest of the Story.”

That was a good one. Stamp and mark it.”

Diane July 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Facebook Friend Morgan Roebuck writes:

“…he’s lucky (as is everyone else) that he didn’t kill someone in the process of his “outlaw” behavior!”

Diane July 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Facebook Friend Eric Vaughan writes:

” I’ll probably be hated for this comment, but with some mothers & their kid(s), when you see they have no interest in raising a human, you just stop caring. Sad but true.
A better (& more relevant) way of putting it is that some parents are incapable of foresight such as you don’t get to choose who hits your baby, how many times & how hard, especially in prison. “

Doug Mould July 19, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Folks, this kid had a great time. Why did he do what he did? The answer is easy; it was good fun. I think it is awful easy to pathologize behavior we find outrageous, and certainly the lack of supervision and free-reign he was given as a child is a relevant factor. It doesn’t mean that somehow his behavior is the lack of being unloved; undisciplined, well, sure. Could he have a personality problem such as being Antisocial? Sure. That is a reasonable hypothesis, not a conclusion.

Colton suffering from a psychological disorder? Possibly. Better bet he was a kid who saw himself on a great adventure. Smokey and the Bandit, Butch Cassidy, the list is almost endless.


A recent posting by Christopher Hitchens regarding Mel Gibson is relevant here. The headline indicates Hitchens sees Gibson as have the personality disorder of narcissism. Well, maybe. Hitchens goes on to identify the clearly radical beliefs Gibson holds in his very conservative brand of Catholicism. Given the latter, I don’t think it is necessary to appeal to the former to understand his behavior. The same is true of Islamic suicide bombers. They do what they do not because they have a personality disorder, but because they think what they do is the just and moral thing to do.

Diane July 20, 2010 at 12:56 pm

DD Web Site Reader Sharon Kass writes:

“Thank you for pointing out the Barefoot Bandit’s need for psychiatric help.

I would add that there is a greater need for involuntary commitment than the law currently allows to be met.

Troubled people often see psychiatric care and general discipline as oppressive. Sometimes they need to be held against their will so that help has a chance to reach past their defenses. In most cases, the emotional wounds that lead to their misconduct start very early and go very deep. They are held captive by their traumatic conditions, and are not free in any meaningful sense. (This goes for sex offenders, too–also reported on in yesterday’s Washington Examiner).

If more teens and young adults were given quality psychotherapy, voluntarily or involuntarily as the case warrants, our society would be a much better place. Conservatives need to understand this.”

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Facebook Friend Renee Ellen Dale writes:

” Diane he did it for attention! Sad, his parents and the system failed him! I do not think his so called mom should profit from this! She is in part responsible for what happened to him! Hope all is great with you!”

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Huffinton Post reader Tryker writes:

“The kid sounds like he has boundless imagination and a high IQ, and a lot of self-sufficiency. I hope someday he connects with the right people that will aim him in the right direction and stand by him until he reaches a point where he is fully capable of using his talents for the advancement of himself and others.
If they lock him up without cultivating his talents, it won’t benefit him or society. He is a very interesting case and unusual in this day and age of pampered TV watching, video game playing “entitled” kids. “

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I’m with you! Look at what this kid was able to do to survive – albeit – a life of crime. Just imagine what he could do if he was actually nurtured? I just hope he gets assimilated some day. I know that sounds trite – but honestly – he deserves a chance – don’t you think? ~ DD

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Huffington Post Dragn1 writes:

” Actually, Diane, this seems like the perfect narcissistic kid you guys want. Dads are not necessary and doing drugs is no big deal. Where was the government checks and free meals and job training for the lady. How could she and her family possible be asked to raise a kid and teach him right from wrong. Maybe even swat his but a time or two for taking things that are not his. I am sure she was told by some counselor that this is just normal kid stuffs even after the 20th time. I wonder how many people would be up in arms had one of the people been close by when he was stealing from them and shot him. We have the generation we deserve. Narcissistic punks that believe in their street cred and believe because they were pushed out of a womb they deserve respect, not earning it but demanding it. “

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Huffington Post Reader S truth writes:

“This child needs to be removed in order to thrive.”

Just where does the author think the child is gonna go? Foster home? There are some fine, loving, competent foster parents. Then there are the rest of them. Sigh.

There is a reason that loser parents are given chance after chance. The alternatives aren’t much better. “

Diane July 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm

S Truth:

So, because the outlook is bleak we just give up? I refuse to embrace that. sorry. ~ dd

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