Friends, family recall Phylicia Barnes during Baltimore vigil

Memorial service set for Thursday in N.C.

  • Bonnie Briscoe, left, and her mother, Arlene Barrett are relatives of Phylicia Barnes and attended a at memorial vigil held outside the apartment building where the teenager was last seen before her body was discovered in the Susquehanna River.
Bonnie Briscoe, left, and her mother, Arlene Barrett are relatives… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
April 28, 2011|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

When police began coming to her apartment complex, when the fliers with Phylicia Barnes' face were handed out door-to-door, Michele Robinson's memories of own daughter's death flooded back.

She spoke to dozens of family, friends and others who were drawn to Barnes' story and her smile, at a final vigil on Thursday at Reisterstown Square Apartments — the last place the teenager was seen alive.

"I was compelled to be here," Robinson, 60, told the crowd, as she shared the story of her own 16-year-old daughter, Chiante Smith. Robinson said three men were convicted in the killing, "but that feeling inside that you think you are going to get is not the same. The best thing to remember is the things she gave us," she said, speaking of both girls.

Barnes, who would have turned 17 in January, went missing from her half sister's apartment three days after Christmas. Her body was recovered last week about 40 miles north in the Susquehanna River.

As Robinson spoke, others in the crowd bowed their heads, some held white or purple candles — purple was Barnes' favorite color — and they wore shirts with her high school portrait. They formed a large circle that spilled into the parking lot.

"We're just still devastated by this," said Barnes' father, Russell. "It's been definitely a trying time, and it's not over."

While the family struggles as they wait to find out what happened to an honors student who planned to attend Towson University, they asked the crowd to pray for others who are still lost. They thanked those who attended the vigil, who came out to the first vigil back in January, and to all the searches.

At the same time her Baltimore family mourned, others gathered at a vigil in Monroe, N.C., where Barnes lived with her mother.

Barnes' case garnered national attention, and drew local, state and federal police into an investigation that baffled detectives, who along with volunteers searched spots including the city's Leakin Park and Patapsco Valley State Park.

City homicide detective said during the investigation that Barnes simply "vanished," but on April 20, crews working on the Conowingo Dam reported a body floating in the river; it was identified as Barnes the following day. She was found naked, without obvious signs of trauma to her body.

Medical examiners have yet to determine the cause and manner of death.

The same day Barnes' body was discovered, boaters reported finding a man's nude body in the river south of the dam, but police later identified the body as a man from Richmond, Va., who was reported missing several months after Barnes disappeared. Investigators concluded the two deaths were not connected.

Don Rondeau, who spoke briefly to the crowd, had never met Barnes, but he became very close to the family when he began helping with the search.

With two daughters of his own, he said, he helped because he hoped others would do the same for him.

"It was simply the right thing to do," he said. "I believe these missing kids need advocates."

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