Teen sought in counselor's death Youth, 16, charged with murder in killing at Sheppard Pratt


A 16-year-old fugitive charged in Sunday's stabbing death of a counselor at a Towson psychiatric hospital left behind writings that describe planned crimes, Baltimore County police said yesterday.

Benjamin Scott Garris of Frederick, police said, had a fascination for violent films and literature -- notably the 1971 film "A Clockwork Orange," in which a sadistic British gang of "droogs" commit murder, rape and mayhem.

An arrest warrant charged him as an adult with the first-degree murder of Sharon Edwards, 26, a counselor at Fordham Cottage, a licensed group home on the grounds of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. He was described as 5 foot 6, medium build, 150 pounds, with short orange-dyed hair shaved on the sides.

Police also were searching for Jane DeCosta, 15, who was reported missing by family members Sunday and is believed to be traveling with the accused teen. Police were not sure whether the Timonium girl -- who has not been charged with a crime -- went freely or was forced to join the Garris youth.

She is described as having short, spiked black hair, a fondness for chains, a nose ring, three rings in her ears, and was last seen wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Police said she has a tattoo of an A in a circle on her lower right leg.

Police characterized Benjamin Garris of the first block of College Ave. in Frederick as being a "manipulator, chronic liar and very intelligent." In his writings, Benjamin detailed plans for savage crimes and "a description on how to kill people," according to the arrest warrant.

"The [crime] scene indicates that he may have been acting out some things in a scene from a book or a movie he has seen," said Lt. Sam S. Bowerman, a county police criminal profiler.

Benjamin's friends and family told police that he mentioned breaking into a gun shop, stealing a car and continuing with crimes.

Police said the teens met at Sheppard Pratt's Forbush School, which offers intensive special education classes. Hospital officials said students, who usually suffer from emotional problems and disabilities, are bused in from all over Maryland.

But Steven S. Sharfstein, the hospital's president and medical director, said patients are carefully screened before being allowed to move into Fordham, and are not considered dangerous.

At Sheppard Pratt yesterday, security was beefed up in the wake of the first killing in the hospital's 104-year history.

The first report of trouble came at 2:34 a.m., when a resident at the home reported that he smelled smoke. According to the arrest warrant, a security officer discovered a fire on the front porch near the home's French doors and put it out.

The officer then entered the living room to find "a pool of blood and the body of a black individual lying on the floor behind the pool table in the adjacent recreation room."

Police later identified the body as Ms. Edwards, a single mother who lived in the Winston Apartments in North Baltimore. Her body had cutting and stab wounds, the warrant said.

Ms. Edwards is believed to be "an innocent victim in the wrong place at the wrong time," Lieutenant Bowerman said. Saturday was her first overnight shift after being recently promoted to counselor in the home, hospital officials said.

The warrant also stated that chemicals were poured throughout the home on the floor, carpet, furniture and the victim's body. A FTC propane tank, attached to several "bomb-like" devices, was found on the second floor with its valve open and gas leaking. Cloth material, believed to have been the starting point of the fire, extended from a driveway to the doors.

Rich DeCosta, father of the missing girl, said, "I hope my daughter is safe wherever she is. I don't know where she is, nobody knows were she is."

Anyone with information is asked to call county police at 887-2198.

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