Police: Body found in Md. river is missing NC teen

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Baltimore Police Department shows Phylicia Barnes. After months of searches and appeals to the public, authorities confirmed Thursday, April 21, 2011, that a body found in a northeast Maryland river was that of Barnes, a North Carolina teen who went missing while visiting relatives in Baltimore over the Christmas holidays. (AP Photo/Baltimore Police Department, File)

April 22, 2011 6:08:48 AM PDT
A tattoo on a body found in a Maryland river was the first indication it might be a North Carolina teen who went missing while visiting relatives over the Christmas holidays, police said Thursday.

Phylicia Barnes, from the small North Carolina city of Monroe, about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte, disappeared Dec. 28 while visiting her older half-siblings in Baltimore. Her 17th birthday was Jan. 12.

"There was a tattoo that got everybody's attention," Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Terrence Sheridan said at a news conference.

Descriptions of Barnes that circulated since her disappearance included a rose tattoo on her lower right leg.

She was found near the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, one of two pulled from the Susquehanna River on Wednesday. The other body was a man, who has not been identified and it is not clear if there is any connection between the two. Investigators were trying to identify him through fingerprints.

There were no signs of injury or wounds to Barnes when her body was found, Sheridan said. The cause and how they died have not yet been determined. Neither body had clothes on.

The Susquehanna is a cold river and it is possible that Barnes' body had been in the river since shortly after her disappearance and was only recently stirred up by warmer weather and storms, Sheridan said.

Barnes' family and friends had raised more than $35,000 in reward money to help solve the case. Her mother and stepfather declined to comment on the identification of the body.

Soon after the teen vanished, Baltimore police alerted local media saying her disappearance was unusual because she had no history of disputes with her family or trouble with the law. Police called it one of the strangest and most vexing missing persons cases they had investigated, and, despite getting help from the FBI, they had few leads.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi began describing it as "Baltimore's Natalee Holloway case." The Barnes case did not get as much attention as the disappearance of the Alabama teen in Aruba, but Barnes' mother said in January that she did not feel slighted.

"My daughter is not the only child that's missing. Other children need their time, too," Janice Sallis said. "I appreciate all that has been done for her and us thus far, and it's quality, not quantity, that's important to me."

Police worked to keep the search for Barnes in public, posting a smiling photo of Barnes from her Facebook page on electronic billboards along highways in the Baltimore region. The effort spurred scores of tips, but none panned out.

More than 100 police officers combed a northwest Baltimore park in the weeks after she vanished, but found no clues to her whereabouts. Earlier this month, hundreds of law enforcement officers and volunteers searched a state park south of Baltimore and leafleted the area of the city where she was last seen. That daylong effort again failed to turn up any clues and police said they were "back at square one."

Telling Sallis her daughter was dead was a horrible experience, Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld said.

"It's the worst possible news you can give to any mother," he said. "It's the last bit of news they ever want to hear."

Investigators find themselves at the beginning of a new phase of the investigation. State police have 12 homicide investigators working with city police on the investigation and police are plotting out areas of the river to search, Sheridan said.

"We're not going to spare any expense to try to find out what happened to these two people," he said. "It's going to take a lot of work."