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 Pelasara, 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 such as 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 with 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.
Chris Collins, an attorney for the photographer, said yesterday that his client had a "romantic relationship" with Behl. He said Behl visited him at his apartment twice Sept. 5, once during the day and again about 9:30 p.m., not long before she vanished.
Collins said the photographer -- who maintains several Web sites featuring his work, including collages of short-skirted teenage girls in suggestive poses -- has asserted that he has no knowledge of Behl's whereabouts. "He's very worried about her," Collins said. "He liked her very much. . . . He's distraught over all of this."
Collins said his client has cooperated with investigators in several interviews. "He was one of the last persons to have seen her," Collins said.
The photographer is a former VCU student, according to his profile on MySpace.com, a popular dating and social networking Web site. He photographed Behl in April while she was visiting his roommate, a high school friend of hers from Vienna. He recently removed the photos from his site.
Now Behl is the latest young American woman in highly publicized peril -- after Chandra Levy, the Washington intern whose disappearance brought scandal to a politician; Laci Peterson, the pregnant California woman whose husband landed on death row; Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride from Georgia; and Natalee Holloway of Alabama, who vanished in Aruba during her high school senior class trip.
And Pelasara is the latest anxious parent, even if she doesn't always come across that way. In interviews, her demeanor is often so calm that she seems almost detached from what's happening.
It's a coping strategy, said Pelasara, who works as an administrator for a Northern Virginia computer firm.
"Did you watch any of the Natalee Holloway disappearance?" Van Susteren asked her on Fox. "The tracking of her this summer?"
"I did some," replied Pelasara, who is divorced from her only child's father. "But I was busy with Taylor with her graduation . . . and getting her ready for college."
Van Susteren said, "Do you have any idea -- of the little you did see of the disappearance of Natalee -- any sort of idea, you know, of the pain a mother can go through?"
Pelasara said she has not allowed herself to feel pain.
"Until I get her back safe and sound, or if we find out the worst, I think then I'll be able to feel and be able to appreciate that," she said, referring to the other mothers. "But, no, everything is buried so deep. . . . That's the only way I can get through this."
Earlier Monday, in the Marriott lobby, she said: "Yes, I can sleep. I have to sleep. And I can think. I can think enough to get through all these interviews, because I have to do that. And then I don't have to think anymore."
Mornings are the worst times for her, she said, as she faces yet another round of interviews, of questions and answers she doesn't like to think about.
"Yes, mornings," she said. "Because I know what I have to face for the rest of the day."
Stockwell reported from Washington.
Taylor Behl, a VCU student, vanished on Labor Day.