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Missing teen's siblings believe Phylicia Barnes is alive

More than a month after the Monroe teen disappeared, NewsChannel 36 gets an up close look at the investigation, sitting down with some of the last people to see Phylicia Barnes.
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BALTIMORE, MD -- On the corkboard outside the homicide unit at the Baltimore Police Department, detectives have posted fliers with photos of the victims they are seeking justice for.

Among them you'll find a fresh-faced teenager in a pink shirt smiling in a self-portrait. Phylicia Barnes is officially listed as Missing.

16-year-old Phylicia, a senior at Union Academy in Monroe, North Carolina, was last seen Dec. 28 from her half-sister's apartment in Baltimore. The teenager was there for her Christmas vacation, visiting her older half-siblings and other relatives in Baltimore. A child of divorced parents, she'd only recently reconnected with that portion of her family.

She actually found us on Facebook about two years ago, Kelly Barnes, a daycare worker, explained.

As soon as we got in contact with her, it was like a bond immediately, Deena Barnes, a pharmacy tech, said.

It was our little sister, as soon as we met her, Bryan Barnes, a firefighter, added.

The three siblings sat down with NewsChannel 36 at their uncle's home in Baltimore for a rare interview. Since Phylicia's disappearance, they've grown increasingly frustrated with the media coverage and with the cloud of suspicion that seems to hang over the family.

We don t know anything besides that she s gone, Deena Barnes said.

We don t know what we can do to help, Bryan added.

According to Deena, she left Phylicia asleep at her northwest Baltimore apartment on the morning of December 28, a Tuesday, at 8:45 a.m. When Phylicia woke up, she started texting with both Deena and Kelly. The girls say they discussed plans for the day and the week. Deena was scheduling hair appointments. Kelly planned to pick Phylicia up after work.

She knew I was coming to get her from work, Kelly said, But the last time I actually heard from her was 11:08 that morning. That was the last time she responded to any of my text messages.

Deena says she heard from her at 12:23 p.m. After that, the messages stopped.

Just after 1 p.m, Deena heard from her ex-boyfriend. The couple was in the midst of a break-up at the time, and he was moving out of the apartment. He had a key, and texted that he was in the apartment and had noticed Phylicia's phone ringing. He told Deena she was asleep.

As the afternoon wore on, both sisters assumed that Phylicia had found other things to do. It wasn't until 6p.m. when Deena arrived home from work that she started to panic. She called her brother, her sister, and her ex. Phylicia wasn't with her siblings, and Deena's ex-boyfriend wasn't answering the phone.

After 7, she finally spoke to him. He said he'd left Phylicia asleep at 1:30 p.m.

NewsChannel 36 won't name the young man because he has not been accused of a crime. He was interviewed by police several times, and has since hired an attorney. He does not have a criminal record. Deena declined to say if she believes what he has told her.

Sgt. William Simmons of the Baltimore Police Department, does not consider either Deena or her ex a suspect in the case. For the most part, [we believe them]. We have interviewed them both on multiple occasions.

His team ofseven investigators has been on the case full-time since January 3. In the city of Baltimore, it is an extraordinary use of resources. There are no plans to change it.

As long as we can sustain those guys who are covering for the squad, we are going to keep going. We are not going to scale this back. This is not going to go away, Major Terry McLarney, head of homicide, pledged.

In the month since Phylicia disappeared, police have searched homes, cars, a stone well, a woodshed, and a park known as a dumping ground in one of Baltimore's seediest areas. With the exception of the park, which was searched on an internet tip, McLarney said he believes those searches were worthwhile, but investigators have no physical evidence at all.

The department has officially classified the case as a kidnapping, but that designation is circumstantial. Because Phylicia does not have a history of family problems, boy trouble, or drugs, investigators do not believe she ran away. Sgt. Simmons points out that is a highly unusual that a teenager would stop using her phone and her Facebook voluntarily.

Her half-siblings are also confidant she did not leave on her own accord. She wouldn't run away from us, Deena said. She'd run to us.

Some observers--including Phylicia's mother Janice Sallis--have expressed concerns that Deena allowed Phylicia to drink or do drugs in the apartment. Police have said the basement unit had the feel of a college dorm. (Deena lived there with her ex and his cousin at one time.)

Deena acknowledges that she was more permissive than Sallis with Phylicia, but denies allowing her to do anything that would have make her vulnerable.

Major McLarney supports her account. I think whatever was happening in there is not going to be that far off the map for people in their late teens, he said. There was nothing really bad in there.

With dozens of interviews on tape, and more than 80 tips fleshed out, the homicide team is now waiting for a break. There are inconsistencies in some of the stories they've heard from the dozen plus people they've interviewed, but there is no suspect or person of interest in the case.

One month in, they still call it a kidnapping, but they have nophysical evidence, no credible sightings, and no certainty about what really happened to Phylicia.

Friends and family, including Union Academy in Monroe, have helped to compile a $36,000 reward. That's what Deena and Kelly and Bryan now focus on in interviews.

Our focus is Phylicia. Any negativity, we don t have time for it. We re not about that, we re not responding to that, because it takes the focus off of Phylicia, Deena said.

They still believe she is alive.

She has the code to my apartment complex, Kelly said. By the time I get up there on the 3rd floor, I m just...just hoping she s sitting right there on the steps. It doesn t matter what time I go in the house, it s just...I m hoping...that one day she ll just be sitting right there.

Watch WCNC at 11 Tuesday to go inside Baltimore's homicide unit with NewsChannel 36.

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