MONROE, NC – Students at Union Academy returned to class on Monday for the first time since learning that one of their classmates was found dead.
Sixteen-year-old honor student Phylicia Barnes disappeared in late December while visiting family in Baltimore, Maryland. Her body was found near the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River last Wednesday.
Baltimore Police detectives are calling her death “suspicious” but so far they have not identified an official cause or manner of death. They also have not named any suspects.
On Monday, students at Barnes’ school in Union County returned from spring break for a day of grieving.
“I will always love her and remember her,” said Victoria Brown, a senior at Union Academy. “I just have to remember what a great and awesome person she was and remember that she had love for everyone. I think everyone is giving her that same love back.”
Across the Union Academy campus, students and staff placed tributes to the 16-year-old. Purple ribbons were tied to trees, the American flag flew at half-staff, and the campus rock was painted with the letters “PSB” – the initials of Phylicia Simone Barnes.
“It goes without saying that our school is in mourning,” said Union Academy Headmaster Raymond Reinsant.
The school held two separate assemblies on Monday morning – one for high school students, the other for middle school students. Several grief counselors were also made available for those students who needed a place to talk.
“There are students at different levels of grieving. Some are in complete denial and some are extremely angry,” said head counselor Christina Rape. “One minute [students] are laughing and reminiscing. The next minute they move to crying and despair.”
To work through their grief, many of the students are helping to plan a memorial service in Phylicia’s honor. They hope that memorial will celebrate her life and her impact on fellow students.
“It’s amazing to see how many people really cared about her,” said high school senior Dale Hancock.
That memorial service is planned for this Thursday, April 28 at 6:30 PM at Lee Park Baptist Church.
The memorial comes exactly four months to the day after Barnes disappeared. The students have gathered on the 28th of every month since December, but of course, this time the gathering will have a far different tone.
In Baltimore, police have not announced any significant new developments in the case.
Phylicia’s half-brother, Bryan Barnes, told the Baltimore Sun that Phylicia had no reason to go to the dam where her body was discovered. He also said he doubts the teen would voluntarily have gone to that area without telling someone first.