- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

RICHMOND — Mayor L. Douglas Wilder yesterday said an important lesson is to be learned from the disappearance of Virginia Commonwealth University student Taylor Behl: Be careful who your friends are.

Mr. Wilder said he talks regularly with Richmond police, who are investigating the case of the 17-year-old freshman from Vienna, Va., last seen in Richmond Sept. 5.

“Hopefully, it is a situation that will ultimately be resolved,” Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times. “I hope that she’s found safe and sound, and whatever she does with her life after that regard is up to her and her parents.”

Mr. Wilder, who teaches at the school, said students should be sure to “watch the company you keep.”

“The same advice our parents gave us still stands,” he said. “People should do what they should do and not take up with strangers and not hang around with people you don’t know anything about.”

Taylor had a “romantic” relationship with amateur photographer Benjamin Fawley, 38, of Richmond, who took pictures of her and saw her the night she was last seen, said his attorney, Chris Collins. Mr. Fawley has been identified by police as a “person of interest,” Mr. Collins has said.

Kirsten Nelson, a Richmond Police public information officer, said police are speaking with several of Taylor’s acquaintances. Police have not publicly identified any suspects or other persons of interest in the case.

“It is still very much an open investigation,” she said. “No crime has been committed in this case, as far as we know.”

On Monday, police charged a Richmond man who is a skateboarding friend of one of Taylor’s acquaintances, with drug possession, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The acquaintance drives a tan four-door Nissan Altima, which police think Taylor was in before she disappeared. Police impounded the Nissan this week, the Times-Dispatch reported.

Citing sources and court documents, the Times-Dispatch reported that police think the scent of the skateboarder was detected by a police bloodhound brought in to investigate Taylor’s 1997 Ford Escort. Her car was discovered Saturday several blocks from where the skateboarder lives.

The skateboarder told the Times-Dispatch that he told police he did not know Taylor and had not been in her Ford Escort.

George Peterson, a family friend and an attorney for Taylor’s family, said he thinks that police are making progress in the case. He would not reveal details of his conversations with police, but said the family has a positive attitude.

“We are fully optimistic Taylor will return home safe and sound,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Times-Dispatch and some local television stations reported yesterday that Mr. Fawley had filed a police report claiming he had been abducted several hours after Taylor was last seen.

Mr. Fawley said in the police report that he was robbed by an unknown group of people and hit in the stomach at about 5 a.m. in an alley.

Mr. Fawley told police that he was then driven to an unknown location and left there. He didn’t report the attack to police for 11 hours. This is the second time Mr. Fawley has reported that he had been attacked, the Times-Dispatch reported. The other attack took place sometime last year.

Police declined to comment on the newspaper’s story.

Mr. Peterson dismissed it as false. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “He might want to come up with a better alibi.”

Taylor’s mother met Mr. Fawley for the first time when campus police questioned him at his apartment. “She had to leave; she just couldn’t listen anymore,” Mr. Peterson said.

Mr. Peterson also said Mr. Fawley declined to take a polygraph test.

Police recently seized several boxes of computer disks and hardware from Mr. Fawley’s home. A copy of a search warrant states that it was filed on suspicion that the photographer had child pornography.

Mr. Fawley did not answer the door at his apartment yesterday, and Mr. Collins did not return repeated telephone calls.

Mr. Wilder said Taylor’s journals and notes detailing her friends have helped police. He also said authorities were closing in on “what may or may not have happened.”

“Even though there is no evidence of foul play, there is no evidence that it’s not,” Mr. Wilder said.

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