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Pinging a cell phone is finding out what cell tower their phone is in. This can be used to locate a person that you know has the cell phone. According to Patrick Baird, who claims to be a private investigator in Texas with 20 years experience, pinging is used by law enforcement on a regular basis.

If this is true, then why is Phylicia Barnes still missing?

Three weeks after the visiting honor student vanished in Baltimore, police are pessimistic, but her parents are holding onto hope.

Barnes who is pictured above is from the small city of Monroe North Carolina. Monroe is about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte. Phylicia disappeared on Dec. 28 while visiting her older half-siblings for the holidays. Since then, all calls to her cell phone have gone straight to voicemail, she’s been a no-show on her social media profiles and she hasn’t used her ATM card.

There is no information as to whether the missing teen’s phone was pinged. With pinging, the cell phone is constantly sending signals to the closest cell tower, even if the phone isn’t in use. The location of the cell tower will tell you that the person is within a certain range. When the person moves they can be tracked by which cell towers the signal is bouncing to. The information is provided by the cellular provider.

Eight days after she disappeared, police “pinged” 33-year-old Tanya Rider’s cell phone and were able to pinpoint her location just off a highway and 20 feet down a ravine. Rider had been in a car accident and she was stuck in her vehicle for more than a week. Trapped any longer, she might not have survived. During the eight days, the police had Rider’s husband take a polygraph test. They feared he might have caused harm to the missing woman. It appears that the police should have done both in a more timely fashion.

Today’s cell phones come with GPS so your exact location can be traced. This is true even when your phone is turned off.

There are some obstacles to pinging and GPS tracing. First, the ESN or phone number of the cell phone needs to be known. The cell phone provider can provide this information but you have to be allowed to have it, meaning you can get it if you are LEO (law enforcement officer), government agency and have a subpoena.

If no one knows your phone number or ESN (electronic serial number) then they can’t trace your phone by cell towers. And definitely not by GPS. This could present a problem with prepaid phones whereby the caller blocks their numbers when making calls. Since there is no name to associate with the number of prepaid phones, the service provider is unable to trace the phone by cell tower.

The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 makes it illegal to sell, transfer, or possess confidential phone records. The Act defines confidential phone records as information relating to the the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location, or amount of use of a service offered by a phone company. According to this law, the Cell Phone Ping is illegal because the “location” is defined as “Confidential Phone Records”.

These obstacles don’t appear to be in play in the case of Phylicia Barnes.

Baltimore police call it one of the strangest and most vexing missing persons cases they’ve investigated, and despite getting help from the FBI, they have few leads.

Barnes’ 17th birthday was Jan. 12. Janice Sallis, her mother remains confident she’ll be found.

“I’m going to wait until she comes home to give her a party,” Sallis said by phone Wednesday from Atlanta, where she’s relocated since her daughter’s disappearance. “I spent her day being happy. I was happy when she was born, and every 12th of January, I’m going to be happy because that was a happy day for me.”

Police alerted local media soon after Barnes’ disappearance, sounding the alarm that her disappearance was unusual because she had no history of disputes with her family or trouble with the law.

Investigators believe she may have been kidnapped and possibly taken out of state, and with no suspects or physical evidence, they fear the worst, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. More than 100 police officers combed a northwest Baltimore park a week after her disappearance, but found no signs of a body or clues to her whereabouts.

Barnes’ smiling face, in a photo taken from her Facebook page, greets motorists on billboards as they drive into the city. Police have gotten about 70 tips, but none has panned out, Guglielmi said.

Investigators are re-interviewing about a dozen friends and associates of Barnes’ 27-year-old half-sister, Deena Barnes, who saw the teenager in the days before she disappeared, and are hammering away at any discrepancies in their statements, Guglielmi said. Police have executed search warrants but haven’t recovered any evidence.

Sallis has expressed concern about the number of strangers Deena Barnes allowed into her apartment while Phylicia was staying there, but Guglielmi said there’s no indication those individuals were up to anything nefarious, describing the atmosphere at the apartment as similar to a college dorm.

Barnes is an honor student at Union Academy, a public charter school in Monroe, and she was on track to graduate early and had already been accepted to several colleges.

Two years ago, she reconnected with her half-siblings on Facebook, and she traveled to Baltimore several times to visit them, her mother said.

“I’m very family-oriented. I didn’t want her scale to be unbalanced, to know my side of the family and not know her father’s side of the family,” Sallis said.

But since Barnes’ disappearance, she regrets allowing her daughter to stay with Deena, who admitted allowing Phylicia to drink alcohol and was generally more permissive with the teenager than Sallis would have liked, Sallis said.

Deena Barnes could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Phylicia’s father, Russell Barnes – who is long divorced from Sallis and did not raise Phylicia – did not respond specifically to Sallis’ complaints but said Wednesday that criticism of Deena was unfair.

Russell Barnes has been in Baltimore since the day after Phylicia’s disappearance and said Wednesday he intends to remain in the city until she is found. He is organizing volunteer searches.

“We don’t believe she’s gone or anything like that,” he said. “We think somebody just has her.”

Deena’s ex-boyfriend was the last person to see Phylicia, according to police and the girl’s parents. Most of Phylicia’s clothing and shoes were left inside her sister’s apartment, and she didn’t have much money, Russell Barnes said – an indication that even if she left of her own volition, she didn’t plan to be gone long.

“She didn’t know anything about Baltimore city,” Russell Barnes said. “She would never leave her sister, really. She loves her sister.”

As the Barnes case has made the national media rounds, Guglielmi began describing it as “Baltimore’s Natalee Holloway case,” referring to an Alabama teen whose disappearance in Aruba became a cable news sensation.

The Barnes case has been featured on CNN’s “Nancy Grace” and NBC’s “Today” and “Nightly News,” among other programs. While it hasn’t gotten as much airtime as the Holloway case or other stories about missing teenagers, Sallis said she doesn’t feel slighted by the coverage.

“My daughter is not the only child that’s missing. Other children need their time too,” Sallis said. “I appreciate all that has been done for her and us thus far, and it’s quality, not quantity that’s important to me.”

If Barnes had been struggling with any troubles before the Christmas holiday, officials at Union Academy said it didn’t show through in her academics or extracurricular activities.

Hoping to study medicine or psychiatry, she had been accepted to several colleges already and was preparing applications for Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. In her spare time, Barnes had been doing community service at a daycare center and by tutoring fellow students in need of academic help.

“She appeared to be very happy, a very happy girl. No concerns. No red flags,” senior counselor Chrissy Rape said.

Barnes’ disappearance cast a heavy cloud over the beginning of the school’s second semester, but Rape said students and faculty alike were trying to maintain hope for her safe return and find ways to vent their frustration and fear.

Hundreds attended a prayer vigil as classes resumed for the spring term. More than 500 yards of ribbon in purple – Barnes’ favorite color – has been turned into ribbons worn by hundreds of students. Students can write messages to Barnes on posterboards hanging throughout school halls.

“When she does return, we’re going to give her all these things … and hope that it will help her when she comes home,” Rape said. “We hold out faith and hope that she will come home. We are very optimistic here at school.”

With all this being said the question still remains: Have You Pinged Her?

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