Police are still searching for missing college student Taylor Marie Behl, but her mother said Wednesday that the time had come to remove her belongings from the Virginia Commonwealth University dorm where she lived for just two weeks.
"It was just what we had to do," said Janet Pelasara, who stayed behind at her hotel here while her brother and attorney packed her daughter's things. "It was time because when Taylor is found, she will not be attending VCU. I'm taking her home with me."
Police said they are following leads in the Sept. 5 disappearance of Behl, and believe that she might have been abducted. Among the leads they are pursuing is the impoundment of a Nissan Altima in which Behl may have been a passenger. It was transferred to the custody of the FBI and was processed for evidence. No other details about the vehicle or its connection to the case were immediately available.
Her family established a reward fund for any information that will lead police to Behl, who graduated in June from James Madison High School in Vienna. The fund, at $11,000, was donated by family and friends, said Pelasara's attorney, George Peterson, who stood against the Ford Explorer being loaded with Behl's things.
Students eyed Peterson and Behl's uncle, Jeff Pelasara, as they stacked the boxes and bags into the vehicle. A scruffy teddy bear was carefully set on the dashboard.
Pelasara said the family is disappointed that campus police officials "held onto the case until it was beyond their capabilities." City police assumed the lead role in the investigation Sept. 15.
"She has not been found, but it's not because of a lack of a effort," said Ann Buckley, a spokeswoman for campus police.
Behl was last seen about 10 p.m. Sept. 5 after a late-night dinner at a cafe near her dorm. She left her dorm room after she found her roommate there with a boyfriend.
Students spoke in hushed tones about Behl's disappearance and watched as her belongings were carried out of the residence hall, where Behl was last seen after a 38-year-old photographer with whom she was involved walked her there from his apartment nearby.
Search warrants were served in recent days at the man's home. Several computers and cameras were taken, partly because police were searching for child pornography, according to an affidavit filed in Richmond Circuit Court.
The photographer, who has been interviewed by police, took pictures of Behl last spring and posted them on his Web site. The photos, of Behl fully clothed and posing on Belle Isle in Richmond, have been removed.
No one answered the door Wednesday at the man's apartment, one of four units in a run-down brick building that borders the VCU campus. Police have identified no suspects in the case.
Last week, 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 Sept. 15.
No alert was issued when Behl was reported missing because the case did not meet the criteria, police said.
Police said Behl was wearing jeans and a black hooded sweat shirt when she disappeared. She had only her keys and about $40 in cash with her, her mother and police said.