Jul.11, 2011 in Babies
Believe it or not, the FBI is still investigating Phylicia Barnes‘ death three months after her body was found in the Susquehanna River.
And it looks like they’ve made some progress and might even have a couple of suspects in the 16-year-old’s death.
An FBI agent with Maryland’s child exploitation task force filed three search warrants seeking access to the 16-year-old’s email and Facebook accounts and the accounts of at least three other people.
It’s unclear whether a sex crime was committed. The warrant’s affidavits are under seal, but a former FBI official told the Observer that the agency must have probable cause that exploitation occurred in order to secure the warrants.
“This is not a shotgun approach of putting out search warrants to see if it hits something,” said Chris Swecker, who once headed the FBI in North Carolina and later led all the agency’s worldwide criminal investigations. “This is a focused investigation. They’re pulling on a string. And that string is child exploitation.”
An honor student at Union Academy charter school in Monroe, Barnes disappeared on Dec. 28 while visiting relatives in Baltimore.
The case drew nationwide attention. Baltimore police called it their most extensive search for a missing person in years. Hundreds of volunteers posted fliers with Phylicia’s bright smile around the city. Her family offered a $25,000 reward.
In Monroe, her Union Academy classmates tied purple ribbons around trees at the charter school where she was set to graduate in spring.
Four months later, her nude body was found floating in the Susquehanna River, about 40 miles northeast of Baltimore. Her death was ruled a homicide, but police did not release a cause.
On Friday, the Maryland FBI did not return calls. Baltimore and Maryland police declined to discuss the investigation.
“At the end of the day, we’re trying to get the killer behind bars and behind bars for a long time,” Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “And we’re going to use every tool at our disposal.”
The search warrants, released June 30, request access to at least seven email accounts operated by Yahoo and AOL. Three include Phylicia’s name or variations of it.
The Observer sent inquiries to each email address, but none were returned.
The search warrants, filed by Special Agent Jacqueline Dougher, also request access to four Facebook pages, including Phylicia’s. Three of the pages already have been taken down.
In the warrants, Dougher cites a “reason to believe” that the search will reveal evidence of child sex crimes or child pornography.
Phylicia’s father, Russell Barnes, did not know of any sex crimes, but said he thought it was connected to his daughter being found nude. He said investigators told him some people interviewed have not been completely honest.
“Other people have been lying and they’re trying to figure it all out,” he said. “They’re doing everything they can to find out who killed Phylicia and that’s what we want them to do.”We hope they do get justice for Phylicia and closure for her family.