Are teens dressed for danger? 'Starter' jackets linked to violence

Damien Burgess, 12, a seventh-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge, says that when nighttime comes, he doesn't dare wear his new blue $69 Syracuse Starter jacket outside.

"I wouldn't risk my life for it," he said near Marvin's Sports City in the Columbia Mall Friday. "I'd wear a different jacket."


His fear stems from stories of teen-agers who have been attacked and robbed of their Starter athletic jackets. On Jan. 29, in daylight, two juveniles were attacked and robbed of their Starter jackets, one in Ellicott City and the other in North Laurel.

Last week, authorities arrested and charged six teen-agers, including 18-year-old Anthony Charles Volta, in connection with one or both of the robberies, Howard County police said. The other five youths, charged as juveniles, were not identified.


Last month, two teens were knocked to the ground and robbed of their jackets in Baltimore. And in December, three Severna Park teens were robbed of their jackets at gunpoint.

The robberies can turn deadly.

On New Year's Eve, during a visit with her father, Karla M. Benner, 17, of Baltimore, was fatally shot six times in Youngstown, Ohio, when three men demanded her Georgia Bulldogs jacket. She was shot while taking off her jacket, authorities said.

Damien, like other young people, said he likes the jacket because "it's the style."

Ryan Cesaitis, 14, owns a $109.99 red, white and blue Washington Capitals Starter jacket. "If [someone] threatened me with a gun, I'd give it up right away," he said.

The Glenelg Country School student said he believes the violence -- sometimes associated with "the jacket everybody is wearing" -- is isolated. "I've had it for over a year, and no one has bothered me," he said.

Starter jackets, which feature names of professional and collegiate sporting teams and their colorful mascots, sell from $69 to $300, retailers said.

At Marvin's Sports City in the Columbia Mall, assistant manager Brian Hodges said the popular jackets generated 30 percent to 40 percent of the store's Christmas sales.


One mother who heard about the Ohio shooting asked Mr. Hodges before buying a $140 Starter jacket, " 'Is somebody going to shoot you for this jacket?' " he recalled. "I said, 'I suppose it could happen to anybody.'

"You can't blame something like that on an article of clothing. You have to look at what society has done to people's minds. It's no different than robbing people for wallets."

Det. Mike Sherman, a county police spokesman, said that in Howard County the only jacket robberies he knows of are the two on Jan. 29.

Joan VanTuyl, 36, of Ellicott City, said her son Kelly loves his $100 blue and gray Yankees jacket. "He loves wearing it. You can tell," she said.

The seventh-grader at Mayfield Woods said cheerfully, "It's cool to have one. You'd probably feel left out if you didn't have one in school."

Told about the local robberies, Mrs. VanTuyl said she didn't know about them and thought that the violence was confined to inner cities.