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Discovery of NC teen's body yields few clues

Phylicia Barnes
Phylicia Barnes. After months of searches and appeals to the public, authorities confirmed Thursday that a body found in a northeast Maryland river was that of Barnes.Baltimore Police Department / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Now that the body of a North Carolina teenager has been found after she went missing almost four months ago, her father said Friday that the process of learning what happened to her can really begin.

"This is the beginning. This is where it really starts," Russell Barnes said. "We're going to find out what happened. We're going to stick with it, stay focused."

Phylicia Barnes, 16, of Monroe, N.C., disappeared Dec. 28 while visiting her older half-siblings in Baltimore. Her body was one of two found Wednesday near the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland.

The news was devastating to everyone, Barnes said.

"There's no way to describe the way I feel right now," he said.

Authorities used dental records to identify Barnes' body Thursday and they are trying to identify the body of a man found a few miles away. Investigators have not matched the man to any missing people reports or fingerprint records, but the search is continuing, police spokesman Greg Shipley said Friday.

Barnes said he does not have any idea who the man could be.

There were no signs of injury or wounds to Barnes when her body was found, Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence Sheridan said Thursday. The cause and how she and the other man died have not been determined and it is not clear if there is any connection between the two. Neither body had clothes on.

State police have 12 homicide investigators working with city police on the investigation and police are plotting out areas of the river to search, Sheridan said.

"We're not going to spare any expense to try to find out what happened to these two people," he said. "It's going to take a lot of work."

The Susquehanna is a cold river and it is possible Barnes' body had been in the river since shortly after her disappearance and was only recently stirred up by warmer weather and storms, Sheridan said.

Barnes' family and friends had raised more than $35,000 in reward money to help solve the case. Her mother and stepfather declined to comment on the identification of the body.

Soon after the teen vanished, Baltimore police alerted local media saying her disappearance was unusual because she had no history of disputes with her family or trouble with the law. Police called it one of the strangest and most vexing missing persons cases they had investigated, and, despite getting help from the FBI, they had few leads.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi began describing it as "Baltimore's Natalee Holloway case." The Barnes case did not get as much attention as the disappearance of the Alabama teen in Aruba, but Barnes' mother said in January she did not feel slighted.

"My daughter is not the only child that's missing. Other children need their time, too," Janice Sallis said. "I appreciate all that has been done for her and us thus far, and it's quality, not quantity, that's important to me."

Police worked to keep the search for Barnes in public, posting a smiling photo of Barnes from her Facebook page on electronic billboards along highways in the Baltimore region. The effort spurred scores of tips, but none panned out.

More than 100 police officers combed a northwest Baltimore park in the weeks after she vanished, but found no clues to her whereabouts. Earlier this month, hundreds of law enforcement officers and volunteers searched a state park south of Baltimore and leafleted the area of the city where she was last seen. That daylong effort again failed to turn up any clues and police said they were "back at square one."

It was a tattoo on the body found in the river that gave authorities their first indication they had found Barnes. Descriptions of Barnes that circulated since her disappearance included a rose tattoo on her lower right leg.

Telling Sallis her daughter was dead was a horrible experience, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld said.

"It's the worst possible news you can give to any mother," he said. "It's the last bit of news they ever want to hear."

Russell Barnes, who lives in Atlanta, said he would soon travel to Baltimore to be with his family. Now the focus can turn to learning how Phylicia died and making sure those responsible for her death face justice.

"They have taken our angel away from us," he said.