The autopsy report came in last week. Sixteen-year-old Phylicia Barnes was murdered. Not that there was much doubt. But now it’s official. Police aren’t saying how or why, because it might hinder their investigation into who did this.
As a journalist, I was hit especially hard when Barnes went missing the end of last year, and confirmation that this child was murdered left me devastated. Maybe it was the joy, innocence and promise that I saw in the picture she took of herself and displayed on her Facebook page that struck such a chord in me.
Maybe it was the fact that the fun-loving, trouble-free honor student reminded me so much of another missing teen, Natalee Holloway — except that Barnes’ disappearance didn’t receive even a fraction of the media coverage that Holloway’s did. Or maybe it was the fact that this was not the first time a black family’s desperate cries for the media’s help to find a missing love one had gone mostly ignored. I’ve interviewed many of these families over the years, but I’ve always yearned to do more.
Now I have an opportunity to do just that with the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc. I accepted an invitation from the organization’s founders to be its national spokeswoman. With limited funds and recognition, BAMFI has taken on the tremendous task of helping families of color who have missing loved ones. That involves guiding families through the process of launching and maintaining a search; communicating with the police; publicizing the missing-persons case in the news media; and, far too often, helping families cope when their loved one is found dead.
“When we launched in 2008, people of color made up 30 percent of this country’s missing cases,” co-founder Derrica Wilson says. “Now that number has jumped to 40 percent. And most of those cases are black men. And you never hear anything about [them].”