Federal authorities yesterday laid the groundwork for an interstate hunt for Benjamin Scott Garris, the teen-age patient charged in the weekend slaying of a counselor at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.
Although authorities believe the Garris youth probably still is in the Baltimore area, FBI agents obtained a warrant from a U.S. magistrate charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. The 16-year-old from Frederick is charged as an adult with first-degree murder in Sunday's stabbing death of Sharon Edwards, 26, at the Towson psychiatric hospital.
"This will give us the ability to expand our investigation throughout the United States as far as the FBI is concerned," said James Zopp, an FBI agent who supervises the Maryland Joint Violent Crime Fugitive Task Force.
"Our best opinion is he is still in this area. We are obtaining a federal warrant, however, on the belief he could flee at any time if he has not done so already. As time goes by, the opportunity to get some support that would allow him to finance his way out of the area improves."
The warrant was issued yesterday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Klein Jr. It came as the reported sightings of the Garris youth are decreasing, according to Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, spokesman for the Baltimore County police.
He said callers reported seeing the suspect in "scattered" locations, including outside the county, but would not be more specific.
Agent Zopp said the fugitive task force, which is made up of local, state and federal authorities, joined the investigation Tuesday. The task force has provided as many as 10 investigators to help county police, he added.
Lt. Sam S. Bowerman, a county police criminal profiler, said that the Garris case would be featured this weekend on the "America's Most Wanted" television program.
Also, Sheppard Pratt announced that it is offering a $12,000 reward through Metro Crime Stoppers for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person or persons responsible for the slaying. Anyone with information can call 276-8888 or 1 (800) 281-6666.
The Garris youth was described as 5 feet 6, of medium build, 150 pounds, with short orange-dyed hair shaved on the sides. Police said it is possible that the boy has dyed his hair a different color, or shaved his head.
Jane DeCosta, a 15-year-old Timonium girl believed to be traveling with him, is described as having short, spiked black hair, a nose ring and three rings in her ears. She has a tattoo of an A in a circle on her lower right leg.
Police are asking anyone with information to call 887-2198.