Phylicia Barnes disappeared from Baltimore a month ago; police have no leads

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By Peter Hermann
Monday, January 31, 2011; 10:05 PM

They did all the things that siblings do when they get together after having been months and miles apart. They went shopping for slippers and chatted about hairdos. They visited their grandmother for Christmas. They sat up late watching movies and eating cookies.

"You know, being sisters."

Deena Barnes stresses that point in interviews, including her most recent on an Internet radio program, trying to dispel stories swirling about strange men and alcohol in her Northwest Baltimore apartment in the days before her younger half-sister, Phylicia, disappeared on the afternoon of Dec. 28.

More than a month after the 16-year-old from North Carolina went missing wearing her new white slipper-boots, Baltimore police say they have no idea what happened to the track star and honors student who had planned to graduate early from high school and attend Towson University.

As promising leads fizzle and searches turn up nothing, the baffling case has taken a toll not only on Phylicia's family but on police as well.

"This is a young girl who was well-liked in high school," said the lead investigator, Detective Daniel T. Nicholson IV of the homicide unit. "She was doing what any young person would do, visiting her family . . . and she vanished from the face of the earth. That's hard to believe."

Nicholson, a 17-year police veteran who has two daughters, said he's in daily contact with Phylicia's father, who travels between Baltimore and his home in Atlanta, and with her mother in Monroe, N.C. His biggest fear, he says, is that "it's not going to be a happy ending."

Authorities have repeatedly questioned a dozen people who they said had access to Deena Barnes's basement apartment, including Deena's ex-boyfriend, the last known person to see Phylicia alive.

Police searched more than three dozen locations, put up billboards, sought national media attention, staffed a round-the-clock hotline and drained sewer water from an old well in a shed. Not a single credible clue or sighting has emerged, they said.

Detectives have said there is no history of family trouble that would cause the teen to run away, no history of drug or alcohol use or abuse, no emotional issues.

Even more troubling, they say, is that no one has reported seeing her since her sister's ex-boyfriend reported her asleep on the living room couch. The ex-boyfriend now has an attorney; police said several of the people they've talked to have retained legal representation.

Phylicia's relatives are torn. They want media attention but are reluctant to grant interviews.


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