At a Georgia church, May 7, friends and family remembered Phylicia Barnes as an angelic, driven, role model with a priceless smile. They gathered at Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers, Ga. for a private funeral for the teen, who went missing from her half-sister’s Northwest Baltimore apartment four months ago.

Last month, Barnes’ body was discovered in the Susquehanna River’s Conowingo Dam and officials have formally ruled her death a homicide.

Lovingly referred to as Simone, her middle name, a handful of speakers took to the podium to memorialize Barnes, including a high school counselor and former preacher.

Below the stage, Barnes smiled at mourners through her senior portrait, placed to the left of her silver casket, in which she donned a black off-the-shoulder garment and a pearl necklace. Nearby, a cross-shaped flower assortment bore pale purple flowers – her favorite color.

The funeral was streamed live on the church’s website.

Chrissy Rape, Barnes’ school counselor at Union Academy in Monroe, N.C., described the 16-year-old as “loving and patient with children.” Barnes wanted to work with kids, “It was her calling,” Rape said.

“Simone, you’re living will not be in vain,” she said, “your spirit will continue to live on in our minds and hearts and your story will continue to be told.”

Later in the service, Lawrence Sullivan, dean of students at the school, awarded Barnes’ mother Janice Sallis-Mustafa, the honors student’s diploma.

Barnes’ pastor from Monroe recollected the day he met the teen, whose smile “would light up the room and just touch your heart” and would have all the church children “trailing behind her.”

“That’s our baby,” said Pastor N. Butler, his voice cracking. “That’s a good kid and it’s very rare you can stay that way.”

He struggled to explain Barnes’ death to his 9-year-old daughter, who considered Barnes a “big sister,” he said. “Our hearts have been full of questions, chief among these, ‘How did this happen and why,’” he said. “We are not her today to answer these questions, even if we could … there would be no answer adequate enough … We are here to ask God to help us and most especially her parents and brothers and sisters.”

One of Barnes’ friends sang an original song titled, “Come Home Simone.”

“Simone, I miss you ‘cause you’re not home,” the young girl crooned tearfully.

A church representative read a poem written by Sallis-Mustafa in Barnes’ voice. “I know to everyone, my homecoming was a surprise,” it said. “For all my family and friends … know I can fly, I’ve earned my wings.”

Towards the end of the service a moving video tribute with a photo montage of Barnes was shown.

Pastor Eric Wendel Lee, Sr., asked God to help mourning friends and family become “better and not bitter” because of the teen’s death. “We thank You for everything positive that will emerge from this … and the other persons who will be found because of this loss,” he said.


Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO