College student Taylor Behl, 17, has been missing since Sept. 5

By Jane Podesta and Susan Mandel
Updated September 21, 2005 12:00 PM

From the moment the phone woke her at 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 7, Janet Pelasara feared the worst. “Police don’t call you in the middle of the night with good news,” says Pelasara, who learned that her only child Taylor Behl, 17 – just two weeks into her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University – was missing.

“I immediately thought she was dead, but she has to be alive.”

Taylor had spent the evening of Sept. 5 with her new VCU boyfriend, a freshman art major, before leaving her dorm at 10:18 p.m. and driving away in her 1997 white Ford Escort. “She told me she was so happy,” says her friend, Lisa Hendricks, who spoke with her a day earlier. “She loved school and she was having a good time.”

Taylor never returned, and on Sept. 17 Richmond police found her car – its Virginia plates replaced by with stolen Ohio plates – parked nearly two miles away.

In connection with Taylor’s disappearance, police searched the home of amateur photographer Ben Fawley, 38, who had met Taylor last spring through a high school friend and posted photos he took of her on his Web site. Police call Fawley – who admitted to seeing Taylor the night she vanished (friends say she asked to borrow a skateboard) – a “person of interest,” not a suspect. The two were “not dating,” insists Pelasara’s lawyer, George Patterson.

Fawley’s attorney, Chris Collins, however, told WRIC-TV on Wednesday that his client did have a romantic relationship with Taylor.

As of Tuesday, there had been no activity on Taylor’s cell phone or ATM card or credit cards since her disappearance. Taylor, who is 5′ 6″ and weighs about 135 lbs., was wearing jeans and a hooded black sweatshirt when she was last seen.

“I don’t let myself think,” says Pelasara, who remains holed up at a Richmond Marriott, monitoring search efforts.

“I can still see Taylor; it’s horrible,” says the divorced Pelasara of her only child, whom she calls Baby Girl. “But she and I loved comedies with happy endings, and I’m counting on a happy ending. I believe she’s out there. If I let the reality in, I would be an absolute basket case.”

Anyone with information about Taylor’s disappearance or whereabouts is being asked to call 877-244-HELP. Family and friends have set up a Web site at