A Mother's Too-Familiar Role

By Paul Duggan and Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

RICHMOND -- Janet Pelasara answered the phone in her hotel room at 8 a.m. Monday and said she had a busy day ahead: bookings on Fox News Channel, CNN and Court TV. She said she could spare only a few minutes in the lobby for a newspaper reporter.

"Greta's here; I'm going to meet with her," Pelasara said a short time later, seated on a couch near the front desk of a downtown Marriott. She was referring to Greta Van Susteren, host of a crime and legal affairs program on Fox.

"I have Nancy Grace tonight," said Pelesara, 44, of Vienna, mother of college student Taylor Marie Behl, who disappeared in Richmond two weeks ago. Grace is the host of shows similar to Van Susteren's on Court TV and CNN Headline News.

"And I have something at 2-ish. . . . National, not local."

Since Sept. 7, two nights after Behl vanished, Pelasara has been staying in the Marriott with friends while police search for her 17-year-old daughter, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. Pelasara has waited patiently -- but not silently.

"There was 'The Early Show,' " she said, listing some of her recent network and syndicated TV appearances. "There was 'Good Morning America,' 'Inside Edition' . . ."

The shows that have put Pelasara on screens from coast to coast have a seemingly bottomless appetite for dramas like hers. Stories of missing young women who are thought to have been abducted are a particular staple of the 24-hour cable news channels.

Critics complain that such coverage is devoted disproportionately to suburban white women, such as Behl, while victims of color who are poor are often overlooked. But Pelasara can't afford to consider that debate at the moment. She said her goal is to get on as many programs as possible, to keep her daughter's face in front of the nation.

"After so many days, the interviews really become tiring," said a friend, Ann Martin, who is staying at the Marriott and coordinating Pelasara's TV appearances. While Pelasara sat in the lobby, Martin was in her room, awaiting a phone call about a car that would take Pelasara to meet Van Susteren at Behl's dormitory.

"It's really hectic, but we welcome it," said Martin, who works for the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. "We have to keep this out there."

Behl, who graduated from James Madison High School in Vienna, disappeared after leaving her dorm room Labor Day evening, two weeks into her freshman year. Her 1997 Ford Escort was found Saturday parked on a residential street about two miles from the campus. Its Virginia license plates were gone, replaced by stolen Ohio tags.

Besides trying to determine how the car wound up in that neighborhood with stolen plates, police have been looking into Behl's relationship with a 38-year-old photographer who has an apartment near the campus. The man took pictures of Behl last spring, fully clothed and posing on Belle Isle in Richmond, and posted them on his Web site.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company