Baltimore Police Look To Media To Find Missing Teen
Police in Baltimore are pleading for help to find a 17-year-old who vanished from her family's apartment Dec. 28. Foul play is suspected but there are no leads, and detectives and family members hope media coverage of Phylicia Simone Barnes' case will help them find her.
Barnes' cousin, Harry Watson, recently stood on a corner in the chilly sun, passing out fliers to the people hurrying in and out of the tall office buildings in downtown Baltimore.
A man stopped to ask: "You haven't found her yet?"
"Not, not yet," Watson replied.
Despite freezing winds, many people stopped to chat with Watson and to shake their heads over the red, black and white fliers he held.
On the flier, there's a picture of a fresh-faced, mahogany-skinned Phylicia Simone Barnes smiling in the middle of the page.
"We don't pass up anybody; we try to get a flier into just about everybody's hands we possibly can," he said.
Those same fliers are posted on the glass doors of nearly every building in the northwest Baltimore apartment complex where Barnes was staying before she went missing.
She had traveled to Baltimore from North Carolina, and was staying with her 28-year-old half-sister.
Police Suspect Foul Play
"We've suspected foul play from almost the beginning," says Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.
He says this case has been incredibly frustrating. Officers have searched much of the city, including homeless shelters, hospitals and state parks. They've checked security camera footage both from the apartment complex and from the large shopping mall behind it. And they've put her picture up on billboards along the Interstate 95 corridor.
"What we've tried to do since the very beginning of this case was make sure that Phylicia's picture and our toll-free hotline was put on every media outlet from Baltimore to Las Vegas," Guglielmi says.
With help from the FBI, Baltimore police have even used technology that finds heat signatures given off by human bodies. But they found nothing.
"We don't have any physical evidence to help us out otherwise. There's no forensics, there's no blood spatter, there's nothing to indicate that she was harmed in the apartment," Guglielmi says. "We've used canine, we've used every resource at our disposal. Phylicia's trail goes cold at the front door."
Police say the 5-foot-8, 120-pound Barnes lived with her mother in the small city of Monroe, N.C. Within the past two years, she had become reacquainted with her biological father and her half-siblings in Baltimore. She was last seen by the half-sister's ex-boyfriend at 1:30 p.m.
Her cell phone goes to voice mail. She hasn't used her debit card or gotten onto any social networks. "That was not in her character," says her father, Russell Barnes. He says the high school honor student didn't know Baltimore very well.
Police and Phylicia's parents say they hope she has been abducted — as awful as that could be — because the alternative would be worse.
"We're just keeping hope going that Phylicia is missing. Someone has her and they're not letting her go," Russell Barnes says.
Phylicia's mom, Janice Sallis, says she is frustrated and furious that her daughter is missing.
"She has a loving personality. She doesn't like confrontation. She's just a peaceful person," Sallis says.
Police confirm the parents' statements that Phylicia wasn't a troubled child who would run away or hang with the wrong crowd. Her mother says she was a typical teenager who enjoyed acting and having fun with her friends.
Keeping Missing Persons In The Media
This case hasn't gotten the same kind of wall-to-wall play in national media as the cases of other young, pretty, missing women, such as Natalee Holloway, the blond Alabama teen who disappeared in 2005 on a trip with schoolmates in Aruba.
Baltimore Police Department spokesman Guglielmi says he remembers the Holloway case.
"It's almost like we had a minute-by-minute update," Guglielmi says. "CNN had a little ticker on the bottom of their screen. Everybody knew Natalee Holloway. They knew her picture. Why can't we know Phylicia Barnes?"
But Phylicia's mother isn't concerned about complaints that her daughter's race has affected the media coverage. She just wants the media and the police to work together so her daughter can be found.
And Sallis has a message for anyone who may be holding her daughter against her will: "For whoever is holding her, I just feel sorry for them from God, because they have no clue of what punishment they are going to get."
Police say they are continuing to question people of interest in the case.
Phylicia Simone Barnes' 17th birthday was last month. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.