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Police press search for Garris friend Father joins Va. hunt for girl companion of teen suspect in killing; Her friends urged to help; Extradition hearing is today for youth held in counselor's death


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- Teen runaways drawn to the sand and sea at Virginia Beach often touch down at the city's small bus station on U.S. 58.

Ticket agent Otila Shumaker usually can spot them by their tired faces, their backpacks and nearly empty pockets -- a description she says matches two recent arrivals who looked a lot like slaying suspect Ben Garris, 16, and his companion, Jane DeCosta, 15.

As the Garris youth remained in custody awaiting an extradition hearing today on Maryland charges of murdering his counselor at Towson's Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, police continued searching for the DeCosta girl. They were joined yesterday by her father.

Richard DeCosta left his Timonium home about 7 a.m., and by afternoon was driving throughout the resort area, cruising main thoroughfares such as Pacific Avenue asking teen-agers and convenience store workers for help in finding his daughter and showing them her picture.

"If I saw some kids that looked like her age or from her type of culture, so to speak, those were the kids I was stopping," he said. "I'm getting leads, but they seem to be solid leads from a week ago."

He also made a television appeal in Virginia Beach seeking help from the public in finding his daughter and pleaded with her Baltimore-area friends to urge her to turn herself in if she called them. He said he expected her -- now that young Garris has been apprehended -- to contact her friends because "she's never been alone when she's had these runaways."

Meanwhile, new details emerged yesterday on how the teen-age fugitive and his companion apparently fled metropolitan Baltimore and slipped quietly into the Virginia Beach homeless scene of woodland camp sites and mission meals.

The Garris and DeCosta youths befriended other teen-agers along the way, according to police, but told them little about the nationwide hunt that had targeted them.

Police said yesterday that the two teen-agers left the Towson-Timonium area on a Central Light Rail train shortly after the Oct. 8 fatal stabbing of Sharon Edwards, a counselor at the Towson mental hospital. Young Garris, who is from Frederick, has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder in that slaying. He and the girl are believed to have taken a bus to Virginia Beach. Although the beach season had ended more than a month earlier, they chose their destination for its warmer weather, police said.

Youth captured Friday

Authorities believe they were in the Virginia resort town for at least a week before the Garris youth was captured Friday while allegedly shoplifting candy and cigarettes at a convenience store.

Ms. Shumaker, the bus station ticket agent, said yesterday that a couple resembling the teens arrived on a weekend morning two weeks ago and, like other young runaways, did not know where to go. She remembered the boy from his shaved head and baseball cap. The girl stood out because of heavy lipstick and dark eyeliner.

After arriving, they lingered outside the bus station for more than an hour, Ms. Shumaker said.

"She said, 'What's down here?' " Ms. Shumaker said. "I said, 'The beach is that way.' "

Barely a block from the bus station are woods that have become a sort of runaways' campground.

Another such makeshift camping area is farther south, across Virginia Beach Boulevard from a shelter known as the Judeo-Christian Outreach Center. Although the couple did not stay in the shelter, they ate many of their meals there.

Pair ate at shelter

Kristie Holloway and her boyfriend, Kevin Green, said they saw the couple at the shelter's dining hall every day for a week. Ms. Holloway and Mr. Green, originally from Ohio, said both of the teen-agers wore camouflage fatigues.

Ms. Holloway said the DeCosta girl wore black lipstick, a nose ring and heavy boots "like a punk rocker."

Ronald D. Bollinger, a director at the shelter, said the teen-agers registered to eat under their real names, but he hadn't seen them there for several days.

A coalition of Virginia Beach churches also offers sleeping arrangements for the homeless. Those needing a place to stay meet in early evening on Virginia Beach Boulevard and a van takes them to the churches.

Ms. Holloway and Mr. Green said they have used the coalition's sleeping arrangements since they arrived two weeks ago. They said they saw the Garris and DeCosta youths at the meeting spot once, but they did not wait for the van.

Teens slept under bridge

Police said the pair instead slept outdoors under a nearby bridge.

Police said they believed that Jane, who has not been charged with any crime, was still in Virginia Beach because she was not known to have access to a car.

Virginia Beach police have broadcast her description, and included the possibility that she shaved the sides of her head. They also said she has used the alias Heather Sexton.

Last night, Mr. DeCosta continued his search, stopping at every 7-Eleven along Pacific Avenue and -- at one of them -- finding a man who had seen her.

"I know she was here," said Raymond Petroni, 62, a clerk at the store at Pacific and 17th Street, recalling her visit a few days ago after Mr. DeCosta showed him her picture. Jane had her hair shaved on the sides, Mr. Petroni said, recalling her standing near the ice cream cooler.

As Mr. DeCosta left, the clerk promised to call police if her saw her again. "Good luck to you, man," he told the searching father. "I've got three daughters."

He was the third person Mr. DeCosta had spoken to yesterday who had seen his daughter.

Police showed up Saturday night at the Fire Escape, a nonalcohol music club that is a gathering spot for young people and the homeless one block from the ocean. A girl with black hair and a black choker said an officer approached her, thinking she might be the DeCosta girl.

Jeremy McIntyre, 21, serving cans of soda at the club, said the beach attracts teen-agers and others who are homeless.

"I've had people tell me if you're homeless, Virginia Beach is the place to be," he said.

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