Announcing indictment

At Baltimore Police Headquarters, Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein (at podium) announces the indictment of Michael Johnson from Baltimore in the slaying of Phylicia Barnes, the 16-year-old North Carolina girl who went missing while visiting her sister in Baltimore. Johnson was the ex-boyfriend of Phylicia Barnes' sister, Deena. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun / April 26, 2012)

When police and prosecutors gathered in a cramped media room on the ground floor of the Police Department's Fayette Street headquarters to finally announce an arrest in the killing of Phylicia Barnes, the victim's half-brother merely rode down an elevator to watch.

Bryan Barnes, inspired by the detectives who worked relentlessly for 16 months on his sister's case, has joined the Baltimore Police Department as a paid trainee. The 24-year-old already has passed background checks, and is scheduled to start as a cadet in the academy this week.

Barnes said he feels uniquely qualified to help others, after suffering through a 16-month ordeal over a missing relative, including a search that ended tragically when the teen's body was found in the Susquehanna River.

"Since it happened to me, I'm in a better position to stand by a family as time goes on," Barnes said a day after the murder charge was announced Thursday. "It happens every day. Somebody goes missing. Somebody gets killed. I've been through it and I know how the family will feel."

There's still a chance he might change his mind at the last minute, Barnes said, as he's still mulling over the kind of career he wants. He knows it will be something in law enforcement though, and said the time he's spent with city police — both as a grieving relative and a newly minted colleague — has inspired his decision.

"We're glad we could be an inspiration and we wish him and all the other trainees well in their journey to become a police officer," said Anthony Guglielmi, the city police spokesman.

City police commanders, including those who hired Barnes, declined to comment on him or on their decision, not wanting to single anyone out of a class of recruits that typically numbers between 40 and 60 men and women.

Several usually wash out in the first few weeks of training, which lasts about six months and includes rigorous physical exercises, self-defense courses and classes in the law and police procedures. They learn to fire a gun, write a legally sufficient police report, drive fast, salute and memorize complicated radio codes. Barnes would join his uncle, Sgt. Robert Jackson, who also is on the city force.

Trainees earn about $2,000 less than the $42,289 they would get upon graduating from the academy and hitting the streets.

Barnes grew up in Baltimore County, where he still lives. He went to high school at Sojourner Christian Academy in Randallstown, and later attended classes at Anne Arundel County Community College and at a business school in Baltimore County.

But what he really wanted to be was a firefighter. At age 19, he started hanging out at a volunteer fire station on Reisterstown Road, rode on the trucks and stayed overnight three or four times a week. In April last year, he enrolled in the county fire academy, the first step toward being a paid, career firefighter.

Barnes was close with his sister Deena, and like other relatives in the Baltimore area, came to know Phylicia just a few years ago when she started to get in touch over social media networks from her home in a North Carolina town.

Phylicia came to a family reunion in Anne Arundel County, and then started visiting Deena at her apartment in Northwest Baltimore. There, she fell into a crowd that included Deena's then-boyfriend Michael Johnson and Bryan Barnes, who visited often.

It was from Deena's apartment that 16-year-old Phylicia disappeared, and Johnson, 28, was the last known person to see her alive on the afternoon of Dec. 28, 2010.

Phylicia's body was found April 20 last year, nearly three weeks into Bryan Barnes' training. Suffering a wrist injury and despondent over the killing, he dropped out. He said he floundered for a while but decided to settle down, and his dealings with police on his sister's case led him to the Baltimore Police Department.

Barnes isn't the first person who has lost a loved-one to violent crime to join the force, but the nature of this case, which attracted national attention, puts him in the spotlight. Police launched an unprecedented search after Phylicia vanished, and interest and scrutiny only intensified after her body was found and her death ruled a homicide.

Barnes has stayed out of much of the limelight — quoted a few times here and there as the case unfolded. After Phylicia's body was found, he met with some reporters and gave more extensive interviews, mostly talking about the frustration of the yet-unsolved case.

On Thursday, Barnes came to the news conference in the same building where he now works, wearing a pendant with Phylicia's photo, a gift from a stranger. He stood next to his 54-year-old uncle, Harry Watson, who addressed months of pent-up frustration and anguish, but also their appreciation that an arrest had been made.

It was there Barnes confirmed what he had been reading and seeing all day in the media. Standing nearby, the city's top prosecutor announced that a first-degree murder charge had been filed against Johnson, with whom Barnes had traveled on family trips.