15 years later, Taylor Behl’s father talks about her disappearance and death: ‘It was like hell’

Special Reports

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Fifteen years ago this month, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman vanished. Police found her body weeks later, nearly 80 miles away from campus. Taylor Behl’s murder sparked national attention, putting the city of Richmond and VCU in the spotlight.

Matt Behl, Taylor’s father, spoke with 8News in one of his first television interviews. Behl said he’s still angry, bitter and upset that his only child was brutally taken away. He said that he suffers each year around the anniversary of her disappearance and death.

This year, Behl graciously agreed to walk VCU’s campus with 8News’ Talya Cunningham for the first time in over a decade.

On a day most parents cherish, Matt Behl retraced familiar footsteps at the dorm where his daughter was last seen. When asked about his emotions while walking around campus during this year’s move-in day, Behl said “heartbroken, this is what my daughter did 15 years ago.”

This heartbroken father wishes he could wake up from this bad dream. “I would’ve never told you 15 years ago that my daughter was going to be murdered.”

Taylor Behl was full of life, interested in drama, enticed by the city life and excited to be apart of the 2005 freshman class at VCU. Her father never thought the last time he would see his daughter would be on Labor Day.

“You just don’t know where predators lie,” M. Behl told 8News.

His 17-year-old daughter’s predator, a 38-year-old amateur photographer named Ben Fawley, lurked near VCU’s campus. The two met when Taylor was visiting the university.

WATCH: 8News file footage from 2005 after Fawley’s computers were seized

On Sept. 5, 2005, Taylor Behl left the Gladding Residence Center and got into her car with Fawley. She was never seen alive again. A massive month-long manhunt to find the missing college freshman took over Richmond, with fliers plastered around the city, canines out searching for clues and media outlets sharing any update.

Police zeroed in on Fawley, busting him for possessing child pornography. For weeks, there was still no sign of the teen.

“It was just not knowing because she just vanished,” M. Behl explained. “It was like hell.”

John Venuti, who worked in the Richmond Police Department’s homicide division in 2005, put together a special task force made up of multiple law enforcement agencies. “We were gonna find her,” he told 8News.

Venuti, who now works as the associate vice president for public safety at VCU, said that the case was one of the first in the nation where police used social media to track down a suspect.

WATCH: 8News file footage from 2005 after remains found in Matthews County

“Every single lead, every single angle, every single aspect was thoroughly and comprehensively looked at,” Venuti said.

Exactly one month from her disappearance, there was a crack in the case and Taylor’s body was found partially clothed in a ditch in Matthews County, about 75 miles away from VCU’s campus.

“Being left in the woods and left in the ravine to just decay for 30 days, it’s just tough to live with,” the teen’s father told 8News.

8News’ cameras were rolling as Fawley was arrested at his home on Hancock Street. He confessed to the crime, saying “I think I might have put my hand over her mouth and told her to shut up.”

WATCH: Behl speaks in 8News file footage from 2005

But Fawley said Taylor Behl’s murder was an accident, claiming it was rough sex gone wrong, which is something her family and Venuti aren’t buying to this day.

“My gut feeling is that he strangled her,” Venuti said.

WATCH: 8News file footage from 2006 on Fawley’s confession

Fawley took a plea deal and was charged with second-degree murder and received a 30-year prison sentence. He is currently serving time in New Mexico and is expected to be released on Nov. 14, 2031.

Though the Behl family lost a daughter, the case also prompted much needed discussions on dating violence, internet and campus safety.

WATCH: 8News file footage from 2006 of Fawley in court

In 2020, 8News was there for a touching reunion between two men forever linked by a horrific crime. Fifteen years later, the memories of Taylor Behl’s life are still strong.

As another school year begins, Matt Behl is reminded of what was and what could have been. He said he’s praying no other parent has to feel his pain.

“Taylor is an example of what can happen and it’s the worst of what could happen,” Behl said.

Matt Behl has set up a scholarship honoring his daughter called the “Taylor Marie Behl Memorial Scholarship.” For the past 13 year he has been financially helping young students achieve their dreams, something his daughter didn’t get the chance to do.

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