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Did Barefoot Bandit Strike South Dakota?

June 21, 2010, 5:52 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

Did Barefoot Bandit Strike South Dakota?
YANKTON, SD - He's been dubbed America's "most wanted teenage bandit." And his two year, $2 million crime spree may now include stops in KELOLAND, one of which left a family fearing for their lives.

Colton Harris-Moore has been running from the law since escaping from a Washington group home in 2008. Since then, he's accused of stealing and crashing airplanes, swiping speedboats, yachts and luxury cars and has become known as the Barefoot Bandit.

His long trail of crimes recently led authorities to Oregon and Idaho.  Then the reports started coming in around South Dakota.

The evidence started to add up late last week, but the crime reports started rolling in Tuesday. That's when a car stolen from the Spearfish area was found near the airport in Yankton. Officials then realized the airport had been broken into.

Then, a family returned home Friday to find a stranger inside.  His description fits that of 19-year-old Harris-Moore, which has authorities from all over the country questioning whether the Barefoot Bandit struck KELOLAND. At the same time, the family hopes, bandit or not, questions around the crimes can be answered.

"The entry door between the garage and the house was pried open.  We were sure that's not how we left it," Kelly Kneifl said.

That was the first clue for the Kneifl family that someone broke into their home while they were on vacation. What happened next early Friday morning was startling for Kelly, his wife and four children.

"She saw a hand reach and grab the interior door and slam it shut and she screamed.  I bolted passed her and threw the door open to see a man, a young man, naked and running the other way. So I tried to chase him.  He jumped over the banister into the basement and I came back around the stairs, went to go down the stairs and all of the sudden I see a red light of some kind pointing at me and he says, 'Stop.  I'll shoot.  I'll shoot.  Get out of here.' So I turned around, got my family out and let the police take over from there," Kneifl said.

Police believe the suspect got away just before they arrived. They brought in bloodhounds from Watertown over the weekend to make sure he wasn't in a neighboring home and helicopters scanned fields. That didn't turn up any clues, but what they did find inside could be a break for police. They believe he shaved his head.

"Fortunately for the police in this case and for us, I think we surprised him. I don't think he anticipated that we were coming home and there was a lot of DNA evidence, different things like that that the police were able to gather from the house," Kneifl said.

Kneifl doesn't believe his home was the specific target of whoever broke into the airport, but rather he became a victim because it's the closest neighborhood.

Police are still working to make sure the cases are connected and can't confirm or deny it was indeed the Barefoot Bandit because he didn't leave his signature barefoot mark. Bandit or not, Yankton families are hoping the case can be solved.

"The kids are struggling a little bit; sleeping at night has not been easy. Every noise, its come running in and, 'We heard a noise.' It's tough on them and I'm trying right now to stay in touch with police and get some closure and hopefully we can put this whole thing behind us," Kneifl said.

There's some comforting news for the Kneifl family and Yankton community. Since Friday, there are now reports that a vehicle stolen from outside of Yankton Friday was found in Norfolk, Nebraska, where the airport has also been broken into. And a vehicle stolen from that airport has since been found in Pella, Iowa.

As Yankton's assistant police chief put it, if all the recent crimes are connected, it's either the Barefoot Bandit or someone who really likes airports.

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