Editor’s note: CNN anchor Don Lemon talks about how the mother of missing 17-year-old Phylicia Barnes made an emotional plea for her daughter’s safe return.
I first heard about Phylicia Barnes on Twitter and Facebook over the holidays. The North Carolina high school honor student had gone to visit her half sister in Baltimore and disappeared three days after Christmas.
Viewers were asking why they hadn’t seen her story on CNN. I didn’t have an answer for them. Unfortunately, I was on vacation and spending time with my family. But I immediately began to research her story. I found a few articles in the Baltimore papers but not much else.
In those reports, police speculated that the lack of national media response was because the 17-year-old is African-American. They were calling it Baltimore’s version of Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager who disappeared in Aruba. But still not much national attention was given.
Case of missing N.C. honor student still a mystery
So, when I returned to work, I asked my producers to reach out to Barnes’ family and police in Baltimore. Both agreed to appear on CNN to answer questions.
I met Barnes’ mother, Janice Sallis, shortly before we went on air. She gave me a long hug and thanked me for covering her daughter’s disappearance on CNN. Her grief was palpable. I couldn’t imagine how she was even able to get out of bed and travel to CNN and appear on national television. She said it was only through the grace of God that she was able to make it through the past few weeks, not knowing where her child was and whether she was even alive.
Sallis told me and anyone listening that she believes her daughter is still “with us.” Sallis said she believes her daughter is alive but fears she is being tortured somewhere.
And in a surprising moment, Sallis turned to the camera and made a direct and emotional plea to anyone with information on her daughter’s disappearance. It was stunning and sad to watch. But I’m glad she did it.
Although police suspect the teenager would have received more coverage if she were white, her mother didn’t want to dwell on that aspect. She said at this point race and social issues weren’t important to her. She just “wants her baby back.”
Let’s hope that happens.