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False alarms plentiful in search for teen-age fugitive Pratt counselor is buried as police exhaust leads


The anonymous tip had a teen-age boy with orange hair sleeping under a porch in the Hamilton section of Baltimore. He may have a knife. He may be the fugitive teen-ager charged with killing a Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital counselor.

But the youth proved to be a neighborhood rock-and-roller with dyed hair and family problems that had put him out on the street temporarily. And the blade was no murder weapon -- police said it was a drywall knife.

Authorities said the result was typical of the false alarms and unconfirmed sightings that have followed last weekend's slaying 26-year-old Sheppard Pratt counselor Sharon Edwards. As Ms. Edwards was buried yesterday in a Baltimore cemetery, police reported no breakthroughs in their search for Benjamin Scott Garris, the teen accused in her slaying.

Capt. Brian A. Uppercue, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said investigators were hoping a $12,000 reward announced Thursday might prompt more calls. By yesterday, the police had run down all of the more than 50 leads received, Captain Uppercue said.

For nearly a week, police have chased down reports of orange-haired boys and teen-age girls with nose rings and tattoos. The latter description, of a 15-year-old Timonium girl believed to be traveling with the Garris youth, apparently has prompted many calls.

In the Hamilton neighborhood yesterday morning, police came and quickly left. But students at Towson State University were roused early yesterday morning by a police response that included 13 patrol cars and a helicopter.

That search began just before 1:30 a.m., when a Sheppard Pratt security officer spotted what appeared to be a man ducking behind a car on the hospital grounds bordering the university campus. The search was called off nearly three hours later with no sign of the Garris youth.

Stephen J. Murphy, chief of the university police force, said three searches have turned up no reason to believe the suspect stayed on campus any longer than to discard or drop in a school parking lot a bag with bloody clothing and a wallet with his identification.

Chief Murphy spoke yesterday to about 75 Towson State students and staff members at a forum to answer questions and to squelch rumors. Students yesterday said they have kept a wary eye for strangers on campus.

"No one goes anywhere alone," said Melissa Law, a freshman from Ellicott City who lives in a campus dormitory. "You stay in groups or don't go out at all."

Chief Murphy said university officials have throughout the week posted fliers and sent electronic mail on computers to help students separate fact from fancy.

In the Garris youth's hometown, an apparent rumor that he would return to Frederick High School led authorities to station -- city police officers and school staff in school halls.

Friends staying at a Frederick apartment with Benjamin Garris' former girlfriend, Sarah Scully, also expressed fears that he might show up at their door. Ms. Scully said she did not fear for her safety, but believed the youth was capable of violence. "I'm afraid of the situation he's in," she said. "I've seen him get worked up in rages."

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