Thursday, October 6, 2005

Human remains found buried in southeastern Virginia were identified yesterday as 17-year-old Taylor Marie Behl, the Virginia Commonwealth University freshman from Vienna, Va., who disappeared a month ago, police said.

Richmond Police Chief Rodney D. Monroe said the state medical examiner’s office used dental records to identify the remains. The cause of Miss Behl’s death was not known yesterday.

“I am sure that authorities will bring the sub-humans who did this to justice, and I pray they will get the death penalty,” Miss Behl’s mother, Janet Pelasara, told reporters yesterday outside her house in Vienna.

Authorities investigating Miss Behl’s disappearance discovered her badly decomposed remains Wednesday, buried behind an abandoned farmhouse in Mathews County, Va., about 75 miles east of Richmond. The remains were partially uncovered, possibly dug up by animals, Mrs. Pelasara told WRC-TV (Channel 4).

Miss Behl, who graduated from James Madison High School earlier this summer, had been missing from the VCU campus in Richmond since Labor Day. Her 1997 Ford Escort was found two weeks later near her dorm. The car had stolen Ohio license plates.

Chief Monroe said authorities were led to the farmhouse on Wednesday by examining photographs found on the Web site of a 38-year-old amateur photographer who was one of the last people to see Miss Behl before she disappeared.

The photographer, Benjamin Fawley, is being held without bail on child-pornography charges. His attorney, Chris Collins, had said his client had a romantic relationship with Miss Behl.

Mr. Fawley, who was considered “a person of interest” early in the investigation, has not been charged in Miss Behl’s case. That title was dropped last week after police concluded their interviews with him.

Mr. Collins did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.

Police said yesterday that they expect to file charges in the case when a cause of death is identified. An autopsy was performed yesterday, police said.

Mrs. Pelasara’s attorney, George Peterson, said the family thinks the person responsible is already in custody.

“We believe we already have the person responsible behind bars,” he said.

Mr. Peterson said that investigators were led to the crime scene by a photograph that Mr. Fawley had taken of an abandoned farmhouse and a tip from Mr. Fawley’s former girlfriend.

He said the parents of the former girlfriend own property near the site.

Mr. Peterson also said he thinks that more than one person might have been involved in Miss Behl’s disappearance.

Police dogs tracked the scent from Miss Behl’s car to the home of Jesse Schultz, a 22-year-old skateboarder and an employee at the Village Cafe, where Miss Behl had dinner the night she disappeared, Mr. Peterson said. Mr. Fawley also worked at the cafe, he said.

“It seems very coincidental and suspicious to me,” he said.

Mr. Schultz was charged with cocaine possession after police searched his apartment, Mr. Peterson said. Mr. Schultz later took a polygraph test and failed two sections — one in which he said he didn’t know Miss Behl and another in which he said he had never been in Miss Behl’s car, Mr. Peterson said.

Police said Mr. Schultz is not considered a suspect in Miss Behl’s case at this time.

Miss Behl met Mr. Fawley in February when she visited a high school friend at VCU. Mr. Fawley was a roommate of Miss Behl’s friend, Mr. Peterson said. That’s when Miss Behl’s relationship with Mr. Fawley began, and it continued through the summer, he said.

Mrs. Pelasara, who friends say had a very close relationship with Miss Behl, said she did not know that her daughter was involved with Mr. Fawley.

“I knew that he was a friend of a high school friend,” she told WRC-TV. “I am shocked to hear that she slept with him … He’s a sick man — he will burn in hell.”

Mr. Fawley is on disability for a severe bipolar disorder, Mr. Peterson said.

Mrs. Pelasara said she and Miss Behl’s father, Matt Behl, spent yesterday making funeral arrangements for their daughter.

“I still can’t imagine that my daughter was found in a shallow grave, decomposed, unrecognizable. They had to use dental records,” Mrs. Pelasara told WRC-TV. “I think when all of this comes down, when the funeral happens, I think then that it will really hit me and I’ll know that she’s never coming home again.”

As news of Miss Behl’s death spread, her friends visited and left messages on her Internet account yesterday.

“I love you and one day hope to be the person you were … someone who was kind to absolutely everyone and had a smile that radiated the world,” one friend wrote. “Words can’t describe how much I miss you and how much the world has lost. I love you.”

VCU President Eugene P. Trani said the school community shares in the grief of Miss Behl’s friends and family.

“Taylor was not with us very long, a few short weeks as a freshman at VCU,” Mr. Trani said. “Regardless, she was part of our university family and we feel her loss.”

At Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., where Miss Behl used to work, her friends comforted one other.

“It’s pretty rough, and we’re just trying to deal with it,” said Jonathan Brindley, 27, owner of Jammin’ Java and Miss Behl’s friend. “I think people have had time to sort of take the whole thing in, to reconcile it. After a month, you get ready for the worst, but it’s still a shock when it happens. The reality is still incredibly sad.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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