Search for Student Focusing on Richmond Area

By Paul Duggan and Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

RICHMOND, Sept. 19 -- Investigators looking for missing college student Taylor Marie Behl of Vienna have found no evidence to believe she has traveled beyond the Richmond area and are focusing their search in and around the city, the police chief said Monday.

For now, the investigation is centered on determining how Behl's car -- with stolen Ohio license plates -- got to a residential side street about two miles west of the Virginia Commonwealth University dormitory where she was last seen Sept. 5, police said.

Behl, 17, who graduated from James Madison High School, usually parked her 1997 Ford Escort closer to her dorm. The car was found Saturday on a shaded stretch of North Mulberry Street, a neighborhood of mostly older, well-kept brick homes.

Police Chief Rodney D. Monroe said the plates belong to a former VCU student from Ohio who now lives in Richmond and reported them stolen from a parking lot near the city's main post office about two months before Behl disappeared.

Monroe said investigators have spoken with the former student, a man he declined to identify. But how Behl's white Escort wound up on North Mulberry with the stolen plates remained a mystery Monday.

"We're not there yet; we don't know," the chief said. "That's the $64,000 question."

The vehicle, located by an off-duty police officer who was walking his dog, was impounded by the FBI. Monroe would not comment on what, if anything, was recovered from the car. A team of dogs dispatched to the area "hit on a few things," he said, though he declined to elaborate.

Those leads continued to be followed Monday, he said.

The teenager's mother, Janet Pelasara, 44, who has been staying at a Richmond hotel for two weeks while police search for her daughter, made another round of cable television appearances Monday, hoping to generate leads for the investigators.

In a brief interview at the hotel, she said her daughter was excited about starting college, though she was not sure on an eventual career.

"She had talked about being an entertainment attorney," said Pelasara, a contracting administrator for a computer networking firm in Northern Virginia. "She had talked about international business. She had talked about history and dealing in antiques. So she was kind of all over the place."

On Thursday, police upgraded the case from a missing-person search to a full-fledged criminal investigation -- not because there was evidence that a crime had occurred, but because it allowed them to use various resources, including search warrants and the Amber Alert system, which they activated late that night.

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