MONROE, NC (WBTV) - Maryland State Police have identified the man whose body was found floating in Maryland's Susquehanna River last week, a spokesperson told WBTV.com.
Darryl Harper, 53, of Richmond, VA, was found 4 miles away from the body of Monroe honor student Phylicia Barnes April 20.
It was not immediately clear what led Harper may be connected to Barnes, 17, the honor student who went missing December 28.
It was learned Harper's wife reported him missing on April 15, 2011. Harper's wife told investigators she and her husband had lived in Cheektowaga, New York until November 2009, when they moved to an apartment in Cockeysville, Md. They lived there until February 2011, when they moved to Richmond.
Harper's wife said her husband left Richmond in early March 2011, to travel to their former apartment in Cockeysville to pick up items. She said she received a call from her husband in mid- March and that was the last time she talked with him.
Mrs. Harper told investigators a relative in the Harrisburg, PA area had called to tell her Darryl Harper had checked himself into a hospital in East Penn, PA, on the Susquehanna River, on March 25, 2011, requesting help with mental health issues. Police learned he stayed in the hospital one night. According to Mrs. Harper, her husband told a relative in March he was going to jump off a bridge. She said her husband had attempted suicide in 2006.
Maryland State Police investigators are continuing to review information concerning Darryl Harper. However, neither they nor Baltimore Police homicide detectives have found anything that would connect him to Phylicia Barnes or her disappearance.
Microscopic samples and toxicology reports could provide answers as to how Monroe, NC teen Phylicia Barnes died, Maryland's Chief Medical Examiner David Fowler told WBTV.com.
Barnes, 17, was found unclothed in Maryland's Susquehanna River April 20, nearly 4 months after she vanished from her half-sister's northwest Baltimore apartment three days after Christmas.
Doctors used dental records to confirm it was Barnes' body that was discovered, Maryland State Police spokesperson Greg Shipley said in a news release.
It was originally believed to be Barnes' body because of a tattoo on the lower right leg, a source said. According to a FBI missing poster, Barnes had a tattoo of a rose on her lower right leg.
Police had cross-checked Harper's fingerprints with national databases as well as sending his description to law enforcement agencies surrounding Baltimore and Maryland to help identify him.
When the positive comparison of prints was made, State Police investigators contacted officials in the Richmond Police Department to assist with notifying Harper's wife and to obtain further information, Maryland State Police Spokesperson Greg Shipley said.
Harper's wife said she received a call from her husband in mid- March and that was the last time she talked with him, Shipley said. Mrs. Harper told investigators a relative in the Harrisburg, PA area had called to tell her Darryl Harper had checked himself into a hospital in East Penn, PA, on the Susquehanna River, March 25 requesting help with mental health issues.
According to Mrs. Harper, her husband told a relative in March he was going to jump off a bridge. She said her husband had attempted suicide in 2006.
Shipley said the facility where Harper had checked into, overlooks the Susquehanna River.
Police say there were no signs of injuries or wounds on either body.
The location where the bodies were found is about 45 miles from the apartment where she was last seen.
Baltimore Police detectives, who have been investigating Barnes' disappearance said it was not clear if there was any connection between the two bodies, spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said.
With the lack of clues surrounding the deaths, police will only classify the case as a death investigation. "There is a very small possibility that it could have been accidental, but we all may think otherwise, we're going to be guided by evidence in this case," Guglielmi said
Maryland State Police are leading the death investigation, using 10 detectives to assist Baltimore Police on their case, Shipley said. "This case is a top priority," he said.
Shipley said investigators were discussing the idea of sending divers into the Susquehanna to look for additional clues, but no decision had been made.
Guglielmi also said Baltimore Police detectives would not immediately be returning to the site of the discovery.
Students who returned to Union Academy Monday, where Barnes was a senior, were struggling to deal with news of her death. "We had persevered in hope that Phylicia would be returned to her family in Atlanta, but that was not the case," UA Headmaster Raymond Reinsant said in a news conference.
Students emotions ranged from anger to denial and disbelief, Chief Guidance Counselor Chrissy Rape said.
"We're all very close, when one of us is not with us and we don't know what's happened to them, it's very scary and confusing," friend Dale Hancock said.
Rape said she was working with Barnes' mother, Janice Sallis on organizing a memorial service.
Both Sallis and Barnes's father, Russell, have been supportive of how Phylicia's classmates held to their faith that Barnes would be found while organizing events to honor their friend.
"We love them because they're like family, because Phylicia was family," Phylicia's friend Victoria Brown said.
Those comments brought Barnes' father to tears.
"We're just family man," he said choking up, "when things happen we just come together as family; Phylicia looked at everyone as family."
Mr. Barnes was appreciative of the support Union Academy and the city of Monroe has shown to honor his daughter.
"She excelled in everything she wanted to do, she loved everyone, she didn't see color, she saw people," he said.
"It's surprising how many people Phylicia has affected positively in her life that she probably didn't realize so its amazing to see how many people truly cared about her," Hancock said.
Reinsant said the $25,000 Union Academy's Foundation had offered as a reward would no longer be used for that purpose since Barnes had been found. He said the money would return to its original purpose which was to assist Union Academy students who were facing financial hardship.
Throughout the investigation, police had said there were several persons of interest in the case, including Phylicia's half-sister Deena's former boyfriend. He was the last person to report seeing the teen alive the day she disappeared.
The boyfriend, whom police have interviewed repeatedly, hired an attorney.
"Only guilty people hire an attorney," Phylicia's mother, Janice Sallis said one month after her daughter disappeared.
Although Phylicia's body has been found, there are still no charges against the man or any person in the case.
But police said finding Phylicia's body could be a tremendous help in bringing about justice in the case.
"Without it, it would have been an incredibly difficult case, but now it gives investigators a real opportunity," Baltimore police commissioner Frederick Bealefeld said at a press conference Thursday night.
The memorial service, Rape said, would be Thursday, April 28 at Lee Park Baptist Church in Monroe, exactly 4 months after Barnes disappeared.
Russell Barnes said plans for a memorial service in Baltimore were still being organized.
Funeral services are pending, he added.
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