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.
Phylicia's mother, Janice Sallis, has accused 27-year-old Deena of condoning alcohol use and allowing men to come and go from her apartment when Phylicia visited.
The missing girl's father, Russell Barnes, has denounced Sallis.
The day Phylicia disappeared, Deena said she left for work and texted and talked with Phylicia several times during the morning. Another sister, Kelly Barnes, had planned to pick up Phylicia that afternoon.
Deena said in the radio interview that she spoke to her ex-boyfriend, who said Phylicia was sleeping on the couch when he left. Kelly said she repeatedly tried to contact Phylicia between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., but got no answer.
Deena returned to the apartment about 6 p.m., she told the radio interviewer, and found her sister missing. She called Kelly first, thinking the two were together, then called her father, other relatives, her ex-boyfriend and friends.
At 7:30 p.m., she called police.
Anyone with information on the disappearance of 16-year-old Phylicia Simone Barnes is urged to call Baltimore police at 855-223-0033. The toll-free number is staffed 24 hours a day. Phylicia is about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds. She was last seen wearing a blue pea coat with a hood, a turquoise thermal shirt, blue jeans and white slipper-boots and was carrying a caramel-colored purse. Police urge anyone who thinks they have seen Phylicia Barnes to call 911.
- Baltimore Sun