MONROE, NC (WBTV) – A reward in the amount of $25,000 is being added to an existing $10,000 reward for information about a Monroe teen who went missing during the Christmas holidays.
Union Academy honor student Phylicia Barnes, now 17, disappeared while visiting relatives in Baltimore, Maryland, and was last seen on Dec. 28.
The announcement about the reward was made Friday morning at her school when a vigil was also held. The money will come from the Annual Ultimate Charity Auction hosted by the Union Academy Foundation.
The fund was created to help students at Union Academy with financial needs. This fund was named the Phil Hargett Memorial Fund in memory of the late City of Monroe Councilman, grandfather of Union Academy students and community leader. More than $25,000 was raised during the auction last November.
According to a statement released Friday morning, the $25,000 reward will be given to the person or divided among individuals whom authorities identify as a legitimate source of information about Barnes. The Phil Hargett Memorial and Union Academy Foundation will disperse the funds after proper notice from authorities and Barnes' safe return. This offer is in effect for ninety days.
In addition to news about the reward offered, classmates and administrators at Union Academy took part in a prayer vigil Friday morning for Barnes. Barnes' mother, Janice Sallis, attended the vigil. Recently, she moved from Monroe to Atlanta to stay with family.
Outside the Union Academy campus, purple ribbons --symbolizing Phylicia's favorite color-- are tied to trees surrounding the parking lot. A boulder covered in purple paint read, "Phylicia we love you."
Earlier this week, we learned the last person who saw Barnes before she disappeared has now hired an attorney. The man, who WBTV.com is not identifying by name because no charges have been filed, is the ex-boyfriend of Deena Barnes, Phylicia's half-sister.
Barnes said when he arrived in Baltimore soon after Phylicia was reported missing, the man told him Phylicia had planned to leave the apartment to get something to eat. "We know Phylicia -- if she would have got up to get something to eat later on she would have texted Deena."
Barnes said he now questions the man's account of the day Phylicia disappeared.
With the help of the FBI, investigators have been tracking the teen's cellphone, bank account, Facebook and MySpace pages. Two messages on Phylicia's MySpace page caught the attention of detectives.
One, marked December 28 read, "wit my sis n bmore." Another message, apparently left December 31, three days after Barnes was reported missing read, "bored as hell.....save me lol."
Guglielmi said police could not confirm exactly when the messages were posted or who posted them.
What appeared to be a promising tip last week, led to another disappointment for investigators desperate to find some sign of the missing teen. Thursday night, Baltimore Police detectives and FBI agents searched a sewer well behind a southwest Baltimore home, but came up empty handed.
Guglielmi said police went to the home because of information learned in an interview.
Police said tests received from the FBI Crime Lab showed no evidence of blood or signs of a struggle at the locations investigators executed search warrants in the search for Phylicia Barnes, who went missing last month while visiting family in Baltimore.
Russell Barnes said with the help of family, churches and private donors, a $10,000 reward is being offered for information that helps find Phylicia.
Guglielmi said in addition to searching the northwest Baltimore apartment of Dee Barnes, detectives also searched other apartments, homes and vehicles.
"We've been following every single lead from the public, searching areas," Guglielmi said Thursday night, "we have searched Leakin Park, Patapsco State Park, searched dumpsters, hospitals, homeless shelters, you name it and the BPD and FBI have teamed up to search it."
Detectives had taken a piece of the carpeting from the half-sister's apartment.
Guglielmi said detectives were working to piece together the last 24-48 hours before Barnes' disappearance. "Usually with a case like this the statements are supported by some type of physical evidence, but we just don't have that," he said.
Guglielmi said if something terrible did happen to Barnes, it was unlikely the person who did it kept the information to themselves or acted alone.
Last week, two United States Congressman are asking for the public's help in the search for Barnes. Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) released a joint statement Friday, a spokesperson in Cummings' office confirmed.
"We urge anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Phylicia Barnes to contact Baltimore Police immediately, and help bring this young woman back home safely. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Phylicia and her family, friends and loved ones," the statement read.
Barnes turned 17 on January 12, more than two weeks after she was last seen by relatives.
Police said surveillance video from businesses near the northwest Baltimore home where Barnes was last seen December 28, did not provide any significant leads.
Barnes' mother, Janice Sallis appeared on CNN Sunday night in an interview with Don Lemon. "The perpetrators who have been involved in her disappearance, I'm going to ask you to please let my baby go," she said to the camera.
In other recent interviews, Sallis was devastated and distraught. "I wish I could be in her place, and she can be in my place," she said, "the pain is like labor pains without the child birth," she told WBTV Reporter Dedrick Russell.
"This case has torn apart [Phylicia's] family; we're hoping someone out there will see all of the stories and do the right thing to give us what we're missing," Guglielmi said.
Sallis and Guglielmi had initially been upset at the lack of national media coverage to the story in the first weeks after the teen's disappearance.
"Once we realized and ruled out runaway, we started talking to national media and I have to say the response has been a bit anemic," Guglielmi said. "I had to pretty much complain that they're not paying attention."
Barnes, a senior at Union Academy in Monroe, has been the subject of news reports on network news programs including CNN's Nancy Grace, NBC's Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America and an article on the America's Most Wanted website.
Guglielmi said Barnes, who is a young, attractive, honor-student with no history of drug or alcohol abuse, should be given the same publicity as other cases of young girls, like Natalee Holloway, who have disappeared.
"The only difference in this case is that Phylicia is from North Carolina, she got lost in Baltimore and she's African-American," Guglielmi said. "We're not asking for interviews; we don't want our Chief or detectives on television, all we want is for people to put her photo on and say, this girl is in danger, we need help."
Barnes was last seen after texting her half-sister Deena she was leaving the apartment to grab something to eat. She hasn't been seen since. Police said there has been no activity on her Facebook page, her cell phone has been silent, and there's been no activity with her bank account.
"My phone still has all the text messages from Phylicia, if you take a step back and look at it different, you may find a new clue," Barnes' other half-sister, Kelly, said.
"This is a very, very, unique case and I can't remember in the time that I've been here that we've had a case like this," Guglielmi said. "It is very unlike her not to update her Facebook page, not to even turn on her cell phone to not try to access money to pay for things."
Immediately following her disappearance, police distributed 4,000 fliers of Barnes. The department also used four of it's own helicopters in addition to two FBI choppers with heat-sensory capabilities. The Maryland State Police also offered assistance, officials said.
Ten billboards along I-95 from Maryland to New York digitally displayed Barnes' picture and a hotline number was publicized for people to call with tips and information regarding her disappearance.
Guglielmi said police have received approximately 70 tips through the hotline, 6 of which came out of the state of Maryland, likely due to the national media coverage.
Police said there were 12 persons of interest in the investigation and that all of them may have had contact with Barnes in the days leading to her disappearance.
In the first week since Barnes disappeared, police launched an intense search of Leakin Park after reading a comment posted on a Baltimore Sun web article which urged police to search that area.
An additional comment left by the same tipster, 'Cham101' read, "The only reason I said to look in the 4000 block of Franklintown Road is because if someone disappears on the Westside, that is ground zero of where they're going to be found." The tipster, later, offered three additional locations where police should search for Barnes.
In an email last week, Guglielmi said investigators merely thought the tipster was offering suggestions.
"It does not appear he has any first, second or even third-hand knowledge of the case, and has never seen Phylicia," Guglielmi wrote. "In cases like this, time is of the essence and it's important for people to pass on true intelligence, not personal theories."
Police were unable to find any clues about Barnes in Leakin Park.
Detectives believe Barnes may have been abducted. Guglielmi says if she was taken to another state, people in that state may have no idea she's a missing person unless her story was broadcast nationally. Click to read related story.
Guglielmi told WBTV.com detectives had located and interviewed the 27-year-old former boyfriend of Barnes' half-sister. The man, Guglielmi said, was not being considered a suspect in the teen's disappearance.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld personally requested the assistance of the FBI.
"We're going over every shred of evidence that we already have; we're re-interviewing everybody we've interviewed, just make sure we didn't miss anything. Now, with the help of the FBI, we're going to get some first-class technical assistance as far as talking to the people who have last seen Phylicia, also looking at her Facebook account and going through the computer part of this with a fine-toothed comb."
Barnes' half-sister, Deena, has been cooperating with investigators, police said.
If you have information that could help police find Phylicia Barnes, call the hotline for tips at 1.855.223.0033.
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