MONROE, N.C. — The mother of a missing North Carolina teen is pleading for information about her 16-year-old daughter in a case police say might have gained more media attention if the girl had been white.
Phylicia Simone Barnes disappeared while spending Christmas break with relatives in Baltimore, her mother, Janice Sallis of Monroe, N.C., told NBC News on Tuesday.
She last talked to Phylicia on Christmas Day, just three days before she disappeared from her half-sister's apartment in northwest Baltimore.
"I told her how sad that I was because all of the children were gone and that next year, they're not going to be able to go because I was lonely without them. And she said, 'Mommy, I miss you, too,'" Sallis said.
Her disappearance has been reported in local media, NBC's TODAY show, CNN and ABC's "Good Morning America." But a Baltimore police official told NBC News that had the missing person been white, the case might have received even more media attention, perhaps aiding investigators in finding a suspect.
"I think the question has to be asked. It's not my position, I don't know what goes into these decisions, but this is Baltimore's Natalee Holloway case," said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. Holloway, then 18, disappeared in 2005 while on a high school graduation trip to Aruba. Her remains have never been found.
Guglielmi said he and "the commander of the homicide unit had been prepared to go on CNN's Nancy Grace but got bumped for an hour-long report on a missing Texas cheerleader," The Baltimore Sun reported.
"Day two, day three, when we were putting information out about Phylicia's disappearance, we were talking about birds falling out of the sky in Arkansas," Guglielmi said in an interview with CNN, The Charlotte Observer reported. "And this girl's in danger. And she needs help. And it was very frustrating for my office to see an anemic response from our national media partners."
Nearly 100 officers — from city, state and federal agencies — joined in the search for Phylicia, a popular, straight-A student who was reported missing Dec. 28. There has been no sign of her since. No cell phone calls or use, no use of her credit cards, and no updates to her Facebook page.
Guglielmi said detectives believe the teen may have been abducted, in part because of items she left at the apartment. Police described the apartment as a flop-house for college students. Janice Sallis told a North Carolina newspaper that at least 20 men had stayed at the house during her child's stay,
"We're doing everything we can do," Guglielmi told The Baltimore Sun. "We're basically at square one with the investigation. It's not like we have forensic evidence to guide us. The key here will be community intelligence."
Barnes is from Monroe, N.C., about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte. Her mother said her daughter was on track to graduate early from a charter school and had been applying to colleges.
Two congressmen also pleaded to the public to help solve the disappearance. Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Larry Kissell of North Carolina issued a joint statement asking the public to contact Baltimore police immediately with any information about Barnes' whereabouts.
NBC News correspondent Pete Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.