The mystifying, four-month search for missing North Carolina teen Phylicia Barnes came to a heart-rending end when her naked body was found floating in the Susquehanna River April 20.

Boaters had reported a dead body in the river, which crews pulled out about 10 a.m. Baltimore’s chief medical examiner later identified the female as Barnes. A tattoo found on her “lower extremity” had prompted investigators to match up Barnes’ dental records to the body.

The remains were recovered south of the Conowingo Dam, a water canal that divides Harford and Cecil counties some 40 miles north from where the 16-year-old was last seen.

Barnes disappeared from her half-sister’s Northwest Baltimore apartment on Dec. 28, leading to one of the state’s largest missing-person searches in recent years.?Though unclothed when recovered, there were no immediately visible wounds, scars or signs of sexual assault, said Maryland State Police Superintendent Terrance Sheridan.

He said it was possible Barnes had been in the river since her disappearance and the cool temperatures helped preserve her body.

It will take several weeks to complete an autopsy and determine the cause of death, police said.

In a strange coincidence, several hours after crews found Barnes, they found the body of a man 3 to 4 miles away. On April 26, Maryland State Police identified him as 53-year-old Darryl Harper of Richmond, Va. His cause of death was not readily known, but state officials said there is no indication that his demise is connected to Barnes’.

Harper’s wife told investigators he had warned a relative back in March—around the last time she saw him—that he was contemplating suicide.

The disappearance of Barnes, a track star and honors student, had baffled authorities, family members and friends. Baltimore City Police led expansive searches for the teen, the most recent involving 200 volunteers in Patapsco State Park in early April, and often sought national media attention for her case. City police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi had openly questioned whether major networks were slow to report on Barnes’ missing person’s case because she was Black.

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld said it was tragic to find Barnes dead, but the recovery of her body should bring authorities closer to determining what happened to her.

“All of us prayed for a different outcome, but finding her body is really going to be instrumental in giving us an opportunity to bring closure to her family,” he said at state police headquarters shortly after the discovery. “Without it, it would have been incredibly difficult to move forward.”

Barnes’ had been visiting her half-sister, Deena, for the Christmas holiday when she vanished.

Deena, 28, said Phylicia was asleep in her apartment when she left for work the day of the disappearance. They had exchanged text messages that morning, but Phylicia didn’t respond when Deena tried to reach her between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. The older sister’s ex-boyfriend, who lived in the apartment, said Phylicia was asleep when he left, but when Deena returned home around 6 p.m., Phylicia was gone.

Police said they don’t suspect the teen was a runaway or was trying to escape any psychological or legal woes.

As news of Barnes’ death spread, friends and community members that were touched by the case began to plan memorials in her honor.

Barnes’ classmates at Union Academy in Monroe, N.C., learned that authorities had found her body after returning home from spring break April 25. The school held assemblies and brought in grief counselors, according to WCNC TV News in Charlotte.

Students were expected to hold a memorial service for Barnes April 28—four months to the day she disappeared.

Union Academy officials said flags outside the school were flying half staff in her memory.

Michael Johnson, a Baltimore activist and director of the Paul Robeson Institute, led a candlelight vigil for Barnes on April 27 near Reisterstown Plaza, where she was last seen.

Johnson, who did not know Barnes, said he was moved to hold the ceremony as a parent and bystander captivated by her story.

“It’s important that we let her know that even though her body was found, her spirit is still alive,” he said. “The tragedy of this is also a blessing because we can bring attention to the other missing and exploited children in our city.”

The AFRO’s attempts to reach Barnes’ family by deadline were unsuccessful, but Bryan Barnes, the teen’s half-brother, has told outlets that the family was planning funeral arrangements.

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO