Eager to begin her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University, Taylor Behl created an online profile and wrote that she was looking for new friends in the Richmond area. Last week, she told her roommate she was going out for a few hours. She did not come back.
Behl, 17, was last seen Sept. 5, and campus officials said yesterday they still do not suspect foul play. But they are becoming increasingly concerned, and the investigation into her disappearance gains momentum and urgency with each passing day.
Nearby jurisdictions have joined the hunt, and the FBI has assigned an agent to advise campus and Richmond police. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, based in Alexandria, has posted a notice on its site.
Every year, students "appear to disappear" from the 30,000-student university and do not call their families for days, said Pam Lepley, a campus police spokeswoman. The students usually resurface after a couple of days, she said. But in this case, Behl, a June graduate of Madison High School in Vienna, has contacted no one.
"We're very concerned because of the amount of time that has passed," Lepley said.
Behl was last seen about 10 p.m. on Labor Day after a late supper at a local cafe. She found her roommate in their room with a boyfriend and told her she would leave for a while to give them privacy, police said.
She was wearing jeans and a hooded black sweatshirt and took only her keys and a credit card. Her car, a white 1997 Ford Escort with Virginia tags JPC-2848, is also missing.
Lepley said Behl continues to receive e-mails but has not logged on to read them. Her credit card has not been used, and the last call on her cell phone was made the night she disappeared.
Dozens of people have been interviewed, and more than 20 leads have been fruitlessly followed. A national alert has been issued, and a description of her vehicle has been sent to authorities across the country.
Behl's mother, Janet Pelasara, drove to Richmond from her Vienna home Wednesday, hours after her daughter's disappearance was reported to campus police. She said in several telephone interviews that Behl is an outgoing, friendly girl, not the sort who would cease contact with her family and friends.
"She's very family-oriented," Pelasara said. "She's basically a happy kid, a good kid. She's fun; she's funny; she's smart as a whip. I'm very worried about her."
Friends have posted messages on Myspace.com, the Web site where Behl has an online profile, begging her to call someone and to come home safely.
In the profile Behl created this summer on the site, which serves as a dating and friendship network, she goes by the name "Bitter." She wrote that she was excited to move to Richmond.
"I just graduated from high school and now I'm off to Richmond for college," she wrote. "I'm looking forward to meeting people that are in Richmond because I only know a few people down there."
She had but one requirement in meeting new friends: "Someone who is kind."