Teen-ager sought in killing is seized Hunted in stabbing of counselor, Garris nabbed at Va. store

October 28, 1995|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Benjamin Garris, the 16-year-old fugitive sought in the Oct. 8 stabbing death of a counselor at a Towson hospital, was arrested yesterday evening at a convenience store in Virginia, Baltimore County police said.

On the run for almost three weeks, the Frederick youth was taken into custody about 5:30 p.m., police said, after a clerk in a 7-Eleven store in Virginia Beach saw him steal candy and gum and held him for authorities.

Virginia Beach police said a young woman was seen waiting for the Garris youth outside the store, but she fled before police arrived.

Police are not sure if the girl was Jane DeCosta, 15, of Timonium, believed to be traveling with young Garris.

The Garris youth, who was unarmed and sporting a shaved head and goatee when arrested, told officers his name was Ernest Hemingway and that he was from Boston, according to Officer Mike Carey, a Virginia Beach police spokesman. The teen-ager later gave officers his real name and Social Security number .

Baltimore County police were notified when a computer check with the National Crime Information Center in Washington turned up information that the youth was being sought on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree arson, Officer Carey said.

Two Baltimore County homicide detectives were en route to Virginia Beach late yesterday to seek the extradition of the Garris youth, who has been charged as an adult, said county police Cpl. Kevin B. Novak.

On Oct. 8, the body of Sharon Edwards, a counselor at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital working her first night shift, was found after security workers put out a fire at the Fordham Cottage. She had been stabbed several times. After the stabbing, the porch area of the cottage was set on fire.

In the cottage, where the Garris youth lived with other teen-age boys, investigators found a propane tank and writings by the suspect describing plans for a crime spree. He has been described as a bright but manipulative teen-ager with an interest in violent films and literature such as "A Clockwork Orange" and "Natural Born Killers."

Last night, Sheppard Pratt officials said, "We are relieved that the alleged suspect has been apprehended safely and without incident, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Sharon Edwards' family, who have suffered through this tragedy. There's a huge relief over the campus."

The Edwards family expressed relief last night from their Baltimore home, saying the nearly three weeks that the youth was on the run caused much strain and grief for the family.

Sharon Edwards' mother, Esther Edwards, said her daughter's 7-year-old son recently found out about his mother's death from a television broadcast of the case.

"He laid on the floor and cried," her mother said. "I took him in my arms and patted him and told him she was gone to heaven."

Members of the Garris family said they did not know why the youth headed to Virginia.

Benjamin's father, Robert Steven Garris, said in a telephone interview from Frederick County last night that he has family in Virginia but was not very close to them. Mr. Garris, who was planning to go to Virginia, said a lawyer had been retained for his son.

"I'm relieved that he is at least safe, but I'm dreading what happens next," Mr. Garris said. "I don't even know what I'll say to him."

For the DeCosta family, the fear is in waiting. Richard and Peggy DeCosta sat up and watched the news last night in the hope of hearing more about Jane, who disappeared sometime late Saturday or early Sunday morning. They are debating whether to go to Virginia to find their daughter.

"I've got to assume that it was her," said Mr. DeCosta, who said he was bothered by reports of other children involved because that "could continue her adventure. If she was alone, she might just get tired and turn herself in."

Last night, Lee Paige, 50, the clerk at the 7-Eleven store who caught the Garris youth, said he was shocked to learn about the boy's background and thankful that no one was hurt in the arrest.

Mr. Paige said the Garris youth was in the company of other teen-agers who had been dropping by the store at the same time since Monday. "It got me suspicious," he said in a telephone interview. "I figured they were trying to rip me off."

He said the youth, who came into the store alone while the others waited outside, put cigarettes, gum and candy into his pocket. He was heading to the counter with several lollipops when Mr. Paige approached him from behind.

"When he didn't take the other stuff out of his pocket, I said to him, 'I think you've got something in your pocket you need to pay for,' " Mr. Paige said. "He looked stunned, and I pulled up his shirt and found the cigarettes. I told the clerk to call 911."

Mr. Paige said that the youth tried to run from the store and that they struggled for about 15 seconds, but he finally pinned him to the counter and waited for police to arrive.

Police recovered four packs of Camel Lights, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a pack of Wrigley's Spearmint gum from the youth, Mr. Paige said.

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