MONROE, N.C. -- At Lee Park Baptist Church Thursday night, Phylicia Barnes wasn't a missing girl or a murder victim. She was a teenager with a 100-watt smile.
More than 700 of her friends and family packed the church for a service they called A Celebration of Life.
The 16-year-old Union Academy honor student from Monroe went missing in Baltimore on December 28, 2010. Her body was discovered in a Maryland river last week.
At the service in her honor, friends lined up to tell stories about a girl some of them affectionately called FiFi. The crowd laughed as they heard about how Phylicia struggled to understand the movie, Inception, how she regularly tripped up the stairs at her school, and how she had to change shoes as a counselor at an after-school program because she'd be wearing a pair just cause she had to look good.
A running theme through the speeches was the smile that friends say Phylicia flashed with ease. Rose Hunter called her a mood lifter who stayed out of high school drama. Her first memory of Phylicia now, she said, is dancing. She used to dance a lot, bad, she laughed.
Phylicia's mother, Janice Sallis, traveled from Atlanta to attend. From the podium, she joined in the storytelling and read a poem.
After the service, Sallis and many other gathered outside to release purple balloons for Phylicia.
Sallis told NewsChannel 36 the outpouring from Monroe and Union Academy overwhelmed her. I am honored to have been able to share such a loving child who brought so much joy to so many people's lives, she said. I can't express how special she is. I'm not going to use the word 'was,' because she's still special and to me, she will always be special.
Friends and family in Baltimore also held a memorial outside the apartment complex where Phylicia was last seen. April 28 marks four months since the teenager disappeared.