Six months later, Phylicia Barnes' family rallies for answers

Six months later, Phylicia Barnes' family rallies for answers
Candace Nelson, 6, along with family and friends of the deceased teen, Phylicia Barnes, pause for a prayer during a rally at City Hall to keep the case alive and plea with the public for answers. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

In the hours, then days, after her teenage sister went missing during a Christmas visit, Deena Barnes remembers the gripping panic that took over — staying up for two days straight, on the edge of the couch, waiting to catch a glimpse of 16-year-old Phylicia returning to the Northwest Baltimore apartment from which she vanished without a trace.

Six months later, the family is without answers. Though Phylicia's body was recovered in April from a river 45 miles northeast of Baltimore, the case remains open, and family members fear the trail is growing cold.

"We haven't forgotten," Deena, 28, said in an interview Tuesday. "We haven't given up."

About 50 local relatives of the North Carolina teen and other supporters gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday night, wearing T-shirts and waving signs. They're hoping to spark tips in a case that so far has garnered few despite a reward fund that has reached at least $7,000.

Maryland state police have taken the lead on the case and continue to work with Baltimore City homicide detectives, but report little progress.

"There's no good news to share, other than that dedicated investigators have not given up and continue to work this case daily," said Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "The passage of six months is not something that's going to discourage the investigators on this case. Their efforts are continuing, and they remain enthusiastic about a successful conclusion."

Some said police have not shared enough information with the family or the public, contributing to waning interest in a case that made national headlines. Relative Harry Watson, 53, has been waving signs in front of City Hall and in other parts of Baltimore hoping to draw attention.

"I think they probably have things that they're not sharing, for police reasons," Watson said. "I can appreciate that, but they should be more forthcoming with the public."

Don Rondeau, a family friend who owns a private security company, said Phylicia's case has brought wider attention to the plight of missing children and the lack of attention most cases receive. He said taxpayers must demand police put greater emphasis on missing persons cases.

"Phylicia is not just a statistic," said Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, a community activist. "She was a loving daughter, a sister. People cared about her."

Deena Barnes said that she trusts that police are sharing what they can with the family.

"This is an investigation, and they are going to do what they have to do. When everything's all said and done, they will let us know everything we need to know."

Phylicia was visiting Baltimore from Monroe, N.C., where she was an honors student and track athlete scheduled to graduate early. Though her divorced parents live in the South, she enjoyed traveling here to spend time with her older sisters, Deena and Kelly.

On her Facebook page, she would count down the days until her trips, posting how she couldn't wait to come, Deena recalled.

The local relatives feel a greater responsibility to keep the case alive. "It happened here. She was in our care," said Kelly Barnes, 26.

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