(Published: Friday, May 18, 2001)
WASHINGTON -- Chandra Ann Levy's rose tattoo is not hidden, exactly, but it is discreet.
Just above her right ankle, the tattoo embodies the flair and enigma of the 24-year-old missing Modesto woman who's now at the center of a national mystery with political overtones.
Those political currents include not only who she might have been romantically involved with, but how her politically connected friend might have paid for her travel.
"I was sick when I was in Sacramento and I only got to go home for one night before I flew back to D.C.," Chandra Levy wrote one friend in December, in an e-mail obtained by The Bee. "The nice thing is that the man I'm seeing took care of my plane ticket for me!"
As previously reported by The Bee, Levy also strongly had hinted in an e-mail that her apparent boyfriend was affiliated with Congress.
"There's always rumors out there," Chandra Levy's mother, Susan Levy, told The Bee in an interview Thursday. "Everybody wants to create juicy, scandalous stories. I don't care about those stories, I just want her home."
Chandra Levy's father, oncologist Dr. Robert Levy, added that "if it helps get her home, I don't care what questions are asked."
Those questions came almost unceasingly Thursday, as the parents ran through a media gantlet that started with the "Today" show at about 7 a.m. and ended after "Larry King Live" at 9 p.m.
Chandra Levy was last seen publicly April 30. The former Bureau of Prisons intern was preparing to return to the West Coast for her graduation from the University of Southern California.
Her packed luggage, identification, laptop computer, cell phone and wallet were in her condominium in Washington, police reported. But her keys were missing.
Neither police, nor anyone else, have alleged any connection between her romantic life, who she might have been seeing and her disappearance.
Nonetheless, in nationally televised interviews Wednesday and Thursday, Susan Levy faced repeated questions about whether her daughter was involved with Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres.
"We don't know," Susan Levy said. "We don't know the truth."
The Levys did note that Condit, who they did not know before their daughter's disappearance, told them he had been giving advice to Chandra about career possibilities in agencies such as the FBI. For instance, Condit recommended that she know a second language.
The Washington Post, in today's editions, quoted Washington Assistant Police Chief Ronald Monroe as saying Levy had visited Condit's apartment "more than a couple of times."
Condit has declined to talk to reporters since word first broke late last week about Levy's disappearance, and he did not return calls Thursday. Aides say he denies any romantic relationship with Levy, and in a statement issued Thursday, Condit emphasized the need to focus attention on getting Levy back safely.
"It is not appropriate for any of us to make any further public comments about the facts of the case or to speculate about a matter that is under police investigation," Condit stated, adding that "all of us should focus our efforts on getting her home."
Condit did not meet with the Levys on their two-day Washington trip, but he did help set up meetings with other lawmakers.
On Thursday, operating on about three hours' sleep, the Levys met with Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Feinstein added $5,000 to a reward fund, to which Condit has previously provided $10,000 and the Levys $15,000.
Police dogs trained to sniff out cadavers have been searching wooded and riverside areas in what police term a precaution.
Investigators have not discussed Levy's social life on the record.
Levy's co-workers and classmates have said only that she is quite secretive about her Washington friend. In one Dec. 23 e-mail, she said simply that "my man will be coming back here when Congress starts up again," and she admitted to keeping his real identity secret from another friend.
In discussing how her apparent boyfriend paid for her air travel, Chandra Levy did not specify whether public or private funds were used for purchasing the airline ticket. It is a violation of congressional rules to use public funding for private purposes. It also establishes a potential public-interest connection to what might otherwise be deemed an essentially private matter.
"It's not what you could call a pleasant feeling, to say the least," Susan Levy said about the recurring questions about her daughter's private life.
Both Robert and Susan Levy said sleep was proving elusive. Susan, who described herself as "Jewish, but (with) a belief in Christ," said she has been looking for solace in the Psalms and other readings.
Robert Levy, a cancer-fighting doctor trained in rational problem solving and coping with issues of life and death, said none of his training prepared him for what he now faces.
"We can't treat it," Robert Levy said. "We can't give it chemotherapy."
Answers, too, have been elusive. The Levys said they have tried to get hold of their daughter's phone records, but although they were paying the bills they said Verizon has not yet provided the records. They tried to learn from Amtrak whether their daughter had made reservations; Amtrak would not tell them, citing privacy concerns. The FBI told the Levys their daughter hadn't bought a train ticket.
The Levys return to California today. Tonight, in Sacramento, where she worked during part of her graduate studies, Chandra Levy's USC schoolmates plan to remember her. Kim Petersen and the Modesto-based Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation are planning a candlelight vigil Saturday in Levy's Washington neighborhood.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at (202) 383-0006 or firstname.lastname@example.org.