A little over a year ago, missing N.C. teen Phylicia Barnes body was discovered in my hometown. While visiting her half-sister here in Baltimore, she disappeared, and though the momentum for search efforts was slow to build, the case eventually attracted national attention–and more than a little speculation as to how this tragedy had occurred. After watching interviews her mother gave on various news outlets and reading local articles that closely followed the case, I wrote about it, particularly about the ways in which it’s a cautionary tale. But investigators have unearthed new discoveries since my initial writing, particularly in the last few days, since an arrest in the case was made–and many of those new details have called my first reading of the situation into question.
It’s difficult to hear about a case like this as a black woman and not place yourself into it. You are the weeping mother, plagued with regret over allowing your daughter’s Baltimore visits. You are the older sister, Deena Barnes, who has a right to unwind in whatever ways she wishes, since she works hard to own her own things, and has no problem playing a dude to the left if he’s not acting right. (Barnes’ accused killer, 28-year-old Michael Maurice Johnson, was reportedly at the sister’s home, alone with Phylicia Barnes, because he’d come by to pick up his things after being dumped.) Or, most notably, you’re Phylicia, who recently reconnected with her half-siblings on Facebook (they’d been back in touch for three years, after having initially met ten years before). If you’re Phylicia, you’re in awe of your older sisters. You’re begging your mom to let you come up to Baltimore from your mundane, slow-moving town of Monroe, N.C. You’re looking at Baltimore colleges. You want to be where the action is.