As hundreds of mourners poured out of the funeral yesterday for Taylor Marie Behl, her mother broke down and lashed out at the person who killed the college freshman and left her body in a ravine east of Richmond.
"May the courts see fit to give him the death penalty so he may continue his downward spiral into the depths of hell," a sobbing Janet Pelasara said in a brief statement to reporters outside the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna.
Pelasara's 17-year-old daughter disappeared on Labor Day, two weeks after starting her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Her badly decomposed body was discovered last week, partially buried in a rural area of Mathews County, about 90 miles from the college. The cause of her death has not been determined.
No one has been charged in her death, but Richmond police have called one of Behl's friends, Benjamin Fawley, 38, a suspect. Fawley, an amateur photographer who is being held on unrelated charges, gave a two-hour statement to Richmond police Wednesday about his role in the case, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Fawley's attorney, Chris Collins, confirmed that his client had, against his advice, discussed the case with investigators, the paper reported. "He has been wanting to talk to the police," Collins told the paper. "He was pretty frantic yesterday [Wednesday] to talk to the police. I advised him not to talk, and he didn't take my advice."
Collins did not disclose what Fawley told police. Messages to Collins's office yesterday were not returned.
Fawley, who had a sexual relationship with Behl and was one of the last people to see her alive, is in jail on unrelated firearms and child pornography charges.
In Behl's home town yesterday, under a late-morning drizzle, about 400 people packed into the Vienna church, some spilling into the foyer when the sanctuary could hold no more. Some had never met Behl but had followed the four-week search for her in the national media.
Inside, a closed casket was draped with a cream-colored cloth and a gold runner and surrounded with candles and flowers. A bouquet of red and white roses stood above a studio portrait of a smiling Behl, who would have turned 18 Thursday.
The mourners included many teenagers and college-age students. Some wept silently as Behl's stepfather read a poem by W.H. Auden, "Funeral Blues," and recalled a vivacious child who would show up with new pets, including two kittens she named Quincy and Spot, and a white rat.
A girlfriend of Behl's recalled that "Taylor would make you feel like everything was going to be okay, just when everything was going wrong."
Another relative recalled how Behl loved the crescent moon and exhorted listeners to think of her when they saw it. She spoke of the closeness between Behl and her mother, saying, "Taylor and her mom were like the Gilmore Girls."
In his eulogy, the Rev. Richard Lord described Behl's interest in acting and her early love of literature: As a child, interviewing at a private school, she named Shakespeare as her favorite writer, he said. He spoke of her childhood in England and Belgium and of her eager anticipation of college, where she planned to study international business and art history.
As a misty rain fell, some mourners exchanged anecdotes about Behl.
Ben Daniels, 21, a high school friend, described her as "smart" and "upbeat," with "a smile that would light up the world."
Daniels said Behl was like "a little sister" to him who, along with her mother, had taken him in when she was a freshman at James Madison High School in Vienna and he was a high school senior going through a difficult time.
"I didn't know where to go," he said. "She talked to her mother and I ended up moving in with them for a few months." During that time, he said, "I just remember it was always nice to come home."
Farida Wuensche met Behl at Jammin' Java, a Vienna coffee shop and music venue where she and Behl were regulars. Behl evinced a cosmopolitanism that belied her age, she said.
Wuensche held a white rose she planned to put in a vase at Jammin' Java in honor of Behl, whom she described as an avid music lover and a serious student.
"The last few times I saw her, she was excited about school," Wuensche said. "She said, 'Yeah, I gotta go, I gotta study now.' "
Since her disappearance, Behl's online network of friends and acquaintances has crackled with discussions about her. On her Web page at myspace.com, messages have poured in from people around the country who said they didn't know Behl but wanted to express their sorrow.
Her online journal is flooded with messages from friends who still sound shocked. "When I heard you were missing I thought you were off on one of your many adventures," read one. "When your car was found I got so scared."
"No one should have to attend the funeral of a 17-year-old girl," said another. "This just isn't supposed to happen."