Phylicia Simone Barnes hasn't been heard from since Tuesday. (Courtesy of Baltimore Police…)
Baltimore police on Tuesday launched an extensive search and investigation into the disappearance of a 16-year-old girl, involving an elite FBI team and more than 100 officers who scoured a secluded city park for hours.
Authorities all but ended their search in Leakin Park around dusk, having found no signs of a body or clues to the whereabouts of Phylicia Simone Barnes of North Carolina, who had been visiting her older sister in Northwest Baltimore when she apparently vanished the afternoon of Dec. 28.
Detectives suspect foul play and have said it's a possible the teen was abducted and taken out of state. But a police spokesman told reporters Tuesday that the grim theory is based solely on the amount of time that has elapsed without uncovering a shred of information on her whereabouts.
"Every hour that passes we grow more and more concerned," said the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "We are going to pour in all the resources we can. … At this point, any tip we get is credible."
Police said they have devoted 25 homicide detectives, as well as investigators from the missing persons unit and patrol to the investigation and search. FBI agents from the Washington-based Crimes Against Children squad are helping with technical and computer expertise.
On Tuesday, 50 members of the academy class combed a stream and woods along Franklintown Road in Leakin Park, aided by a police helicopter, members of the dive team, nine dogs trained to sniff out bodies and officers from the Maryland Natural Resources police.
Barnes, who is from Monroe, N.C., about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte, was on track to finish high school early and wanted to move to Baltimore, live with her sister and attend Towson University. Police said she has no criminal history, had never run away nor had she ever exhibited signs of emotional distress.
She disappeared Dec. 28 about 1:30 p.m., after she left her 27-year-old sister's first-floor apartment located in an isolated complex on Eberle Drive, near the Reisterstown Road Plaza Shopping Center and a Metro subway stop.
Family members said she sent a text message to her sister. They did not divulge its contents, but said it appeared Barnes had left to find something to eat. She was wearing a navy blue pea coat with a hood, a turquoise thermal shirt, blue jeans, white slipper-boots and was carrying a caramel-colored purse.
Police said on Tuesday that she had a debit card and a cell phone, but the card has not been used and the phone appears to have been turned off. Police also said Barnes has not updated her Facebook page since before her disappearance, which they described as unusual.
Family members, including the girl's father, Russell Barnes, have spent their days in Baltimore handing out fliers and trying to find anyone who might have seen the teen. On Tuesday, Russell Barnes referred questions to city police.
Baltimore police routinely investigate reports of missing persons, but most are quickly located unharmed. Others turn out to be victims of family or domestic disputes. There are few reports of random kidnappings or abductions.
Police described the Eberle Drive apartment as a flophouse for college students, with many people coming and going at different times. Police said the victim's sister has been cooperative with investigators, who have also spoken to associates and people who saw her last and who were in the apartment over the past week. Guglielmi, the spokesman, said officers searched seven locations Monday night, including the sister's apartment and residences of friends and associates. He said detectives found nothing to help their investigation. "There are no persons of interest at this time," Guglielmi said.
Police said at a news conference that the most credible tip on Tuesday came from a comment posted on a story on the missing girl on The Baltimore Sun's website. It read: "Humor me, somebody pop over to the 4000 block of Franklintown Road and look at the Southward shoulder."
Leakin Park is a popular dumping ground for bodies in the city, but without more information police had no immediate idea whether the poster had specific information about the case or was simply pontificating on what might have seemed an obvious place to look.
But the specificity of the post drew the attention of detectives, who quickly blocked off one of two main roads that wind through the park on the city's western edge and sent dozens of police officers and cadets to search throughout the day.
The comment was posted by a Sun reader and frequent commenter, who uses the screen name Cham101, who in early November had posted a research project on her blog that attempted to map all the bodies found in Leakin Park over the years.
"The reason I said look at the 4000 block of Franklintown Road is because if someone disappears on the West Side that is ground zero of where they are going to be found," Cham101 posted on The Baltimore Sun's site after police said her comment had sparked the search. "The police should have searched in all these places 2 days ago. These are easy drop points for bodies and many many bodies have been found at these sites."