Family members of Phylicia Barnes say the suspect in her murder, Michael Johson, is no stranger to them.
“Him and Phylicia were actually pretty cool,” said Phylicia’s brother, Bryan Barnes. “We were all like one happy family I guess you could say. There was nothing to say that he was capable of doing such a thing.”
Johnson, family members say, had been dating Phylicia Barnes' step-sister Deena, for at least eight years, even going on trips with the family.
“There's no way to tell that somebody could be a murderer,” Bryan Barnes said. “When met him he was cool. We played basketball growing up.”
“I would hope that he would do the right thing,” added Phylicia’s cousin, Harry Watson. “If it was him, tell the truth. Tell the truth and give Phylicia's family some type of closure.”
Homeland security expert Don Rondeau got involved with the case soon after Phylicia Barnes disappeared in December of 2010. He says in the vast majority of cases, the suspect turns out to be someone close to the victim.
“Typically it is a person who had access, knowledge of the victim, and that's typically someone we know,” he said.
During past legislative session, Rondeau and the Barnes family worked to pass what's known as "Phylicia's Law" -- aimed at improving coordination and response when a young person goes missing.
“Those who prey on children have to understand that things have changed,” Rondeau said. “This little girl Phylicia Barnes, I believe, will ultimately save other children just by virtue of her circumstance.”
Family members say they suspected Michael Johnson from the time Phylicia Barnes disappeared. But they've been patient, allowing investigators to do their work.
“Every day I get up and this is what I think about,” Watson said. “This day right here. When someone is finally brought to justice for the murder of Phylicia.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein did not reveal how Phylicia Barnes was murdered, or what may have lead to her death.
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