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Search for Missing Girl Brings Central Maryland's Rescue Teams Together

The effort, which uncovered a body in Patapsco Valley State Park on Saturday, mobilized Central Maryland fire departments as a unit for the first time since Katrina.

A daylong search through on Saturday for Phylicia Barnes—the teen missing from Baltimore since December—came about through the efforts of a special search team made up of personnel from at least six jurisdictions, as well as university students, individual volunteers and church groups.

Nothing related to Barnes’ case was found, putting the investigation “back to square one,” said Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for Baltimore City Police, but a male body found during the effort is now under investigation by the Maryland State Police.

Involved in the search was Urban Search & Rescue (US&R), which consists of 140 fire department personnel from Baltimore City, the City of Annapolis as well as Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford Counties. Its mission is to respond to disasters, and the last time it was tapped for service was during Hurricane Katrina, said Scott Brillman, spokesman for Baltimore’s Office of Emergency Management, who went to New Orleans with the team in 2005.

“This was the first time US&R was locally deployed,” said Brillman.

At the end of the search, Lt. Scott Merbach, a Baltimore City firefighter and leader of the US&R team, said: “It went well. The efforts were well-coordinated across multiple agencies.”

The methods for searching, he added, were varied: US&R was provided with 10 teams of cadaver dogs from K-9 agencies; others searched using GPS. More obscure tools, like cameras that can see under water and inside holes, came out for the effort, too.

The equipment used in the search was funded by grant money, said Brillman, mostly from the Department of Homeland Security. While coordinating the effort came at a price, he noted that many people offered their services for free. For example, students from Coppin State University’s criminal justice program enlisted to help. In addition, individual volunteers and Baltimore church groups surveyed parts of Patapsco State Park near Ilchester.

An Ellicott City church offered its parking lot as a staging location for officials. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, on Ilchester Road, was teeming with emergency and rescue personnel throughout the day.

Parish administrator Lisa Sliker said it was “amazing” how everything came together. The teams arrived at 6 a.m., she said, and they were there until approximately 6 p.m.

Officials were still calculating how much of the park they covered as of Saturday evening.

It was the Civil Air Patrol members who discovered the partially decomposed body of a man, who Maryland State Police said was dressed in multiple layers of clothing, while patrolling Hilltop Place on foot.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the equipment, not the search, was grant-funded.

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