Since her disappearance from Virginia Commonwealth University in early September, and the discovery of her body a month later, 17-year-old Taylor Behl's name has become familiar to nightly news viewers across the country. But there are many in the area, of course, who had already come to know Taylor under happier circumstances.
Elizabeth Stockton of McLean remembers when she was living in an apartment on Anderson Road, and one day a small girl walked down the hill behind her building, squeezed through the railing around her back porch and climbed into one of her patio chairs. "And there was a bowl of grapes on the table, so she started eating grapes," said Stockton.
The little girl was Taylor, about a year and-a-half old. Taylor's mother, Janet Pelasara, appeared shortly thereafter, looking distraught, and the women got to talking, said Stockton. Taylor and her mother soon became close friends with Stockton and her daughter, who was in her mid-20s, and Pelasara ended up moving herself and her daughter into an apartment across the hall from the Stocktons.
When Taylor was still very young, Stockton went on a long business trip, she said, and she was told that every day, Taylor would ask, "But where is Elizabeth?"
No explanation would suffice, and Stockton was met at the airport by Pelasara and Taylor, who was holding up a sign that read, "Elizabeth, where are you?"
"She was a delightful child, but she grew up to be more delightful," said Stockton. "She was so alive and so vibrant, so ready to do things. And funny. And participatory."
Helping people, said Stockton, "was just second nature to her. If she saw somebody needed help or needed direction, she would just offhandedly give it to them." She mentioned that if someone looked lost at a social gathering, Taylor would take them by the shoulders and guide them to where she thought they ought to be.
When Taylor was getting ready to go to college, she came to Stockton for a reading list, saying, "I'm going to college, I should be reading." She left with a list of classics from Borders which Stockton had found for her, she said.
STOCKTON SAID HER DAUGHTER and Taylor had made plans for Taylor to study abroad her junior year in England, where she and her mother had lived with Taylor's stepfather, Trevor Patch, for about three years when she was younger.
Before Taylor left for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said Stockton, "I gave her a map of Richmond, and I said, 'Don't get lost.' And now she's lost. And I'm really sad. And I'm also mad, of course. He just snuffed her out just as she was ready to go."
For a year and-a-half, Taylor babysat for her neighbor Zahra Alikhani's two children.
"She was so sweet. She was so nice," said Alikhani, saying Taylor would often take her son back to school for a forgotten jacket or other item after she had already picked him up.
"Even though she was so young, I trusted her with them because she was so responsible. She was very mature for her age," she said. She noted that Taylor played with her children, helped them with their homework and took them for walks and bike rides rather than watching television and talking to boys on the phone.
Alikhani said Taylor brought the children a Nintendo controller and two games she had happened to own. "It breaks my kids' hearts," she said, "because every time they play it, they say, 'This was Taylor's.'
"And I tell them, 'She is still alive. She was such a good girl, she is with God. You can talk to her.'"
Alikhani said she regrets that she never took a picture of Taylor with her children. "I just thought she was going to be here, and I could take a picture whenever," she said.
Trevor Patch, who was married to Pelasara from 1992 to '97, said he remembers "a young lady who was more mature and worldly than you would expect from someone that age." He pointed out that, since he and Pelasara were living in England and then in Belgium, Taylor became accustomed at 5 and-a-half to flying back and forth over the Atlantic by herself to visit her father.
"She adapted to U.K. schools easily enough," he said. "She spoke like a little English kid within a year. She could switch in and out of the accent."
Patch said Taylor liked England "a great deal" and especially enjoyed watching plays in London and boating and fly-fishing on the River Thames.
"She was a really easy-going, friendly, open child — very easy to get along with. Just a great pleasure," he said. "There was nothing hidden with her."
PELASARA SAID BY the time her daughter was 3, she knew all the words to "Phantom of the Opera." "And she played Christine [the female lead in "Phantom"], not Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty," she said.
"She loved old movies," said Pelasara's sister, Debbie Gallegos. "Her favorite was 'Les Miserables.'"
The two women said Taylor also liked old rock 'n' roll such as the Beach Boys; antique books and rings; salsa dancing, in which she competed; ballroom dancing, which she student taught; and expressive T-shirts with sayings like "Stop bitching and start a revolution," "I love carbs" and "I like dorks."
"She had a quick wit," said Gallegos. "She could make up a funny name for you in a heartbeat. She called me A.D.S." This was for Aunt Debbie Sue, because Gallegos was not fond of her middle name — Sue — she said.
"That's better than mine," said Pelasara. "She called me Dorkette. She put it as the screen-saver on my phone."
"She could sense who in a room was anxious or needed encouragement, and she would go to them like a magnet," said Gallegos.
Pelasara said the friends Taylor sought out "usually had some major issue she would try and help them solve." She mentioned one friend who was kicked out of his house for smoking pot, checked himself into rehab and ended up staying with Taylor and Pelasara for several months.
"She would try to be a sounding board for her friends," said Gallegos. "She treated people fairly and expected people to treat her fairly, and when they didn't she was shocked by it. She never expected anyone to treat her badly."
When she thinks of Taylor, Pelasara pictures "us snuggling in my bed, watching 'Gilmore Girls' or 'Charmed' or 'House,'" she said. "We would eat popcorn and each have our own pint of ice cream."
The other image that springs to mind, she said, is Taylor saying, "I love you more," her standard response to an expression of affection.