Parents of Slain Va. Tech Student Search for a Killer
The suspect in Morgan Harrington's murder is also linked to a 2005 rape in Fairfax City.
It's been just over a year since their 20-year-old daughter disappeared from a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. Now Dan and Gil Harrington are afraid that the man who killed Morgan and raped another woman in Fairfax City will remain free to strike again.
The Harringtons and their small troop of supporters drove from Charlottesville to the Fairfax City Police Department Saturday to alert others that a rapist and murderer is still on the loose. "Justice for Morgan" and composite sketches of the suspect wanted in her rape and murder covered the sides of their vehicles.
"We're going to solve this one piece at a time," said Kenny Jarels, convoy organizer and Virginia Tech electronics technician.
Va. Tech student Morgan Harrington went to a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia with some friends on Oct. 17, 2009. She somehow separated from her friends and was barred from reentering the John Paul Jones Arena per venue regulations. With no car and her Harrisonburg home over an hour drive away, her family could only speculate as to what happened next.
"It's worse when you don't know. The three months, 100 days Morgan went missing, you're bargaining in your mind," said Dan. "She hasn't been found yet but in your mind you just know."
Her remains were discovered in a farm southwest of Charlottesville three months later.
The Harringtons mourned and honored their daughter with community-organized candlelight vigils, Hokie memorial events and by urging other silent victims of sexual and violent crimes to speak out. They gave back, constructing an educational wing in Zambia, Africa and forming a scholarship fund for Virginia Tech students in Morgan's name. Jarels helped them track their efforts by designing findmorgan.com.
Then police caught a break.
DNA evidence picked up in an unsolved rape case in Fairfax City matched evidence in Morgan's murder.
A 26-year-old Fairfax City woman was walking back from Giant on Jermantown Road in September 2005 when a man pulled her into a park lot near Rock Garden Drive and sexually assaulted her, according to Fairfax City police. He was last seen that night running toward Fairhaven Court.
The victim described her attacker as a 25-35 year-old man who was six feet tall, of medium build with black hair, beard and mustache. He was wearing a black sweater with a zipper over a white t-shirt and light-colored pants.
With the new clue, the Harringtons hoped someone from Northern Virginia would recognize the suspect and step forward. But months after Morgan's death faded from national news coverage, no one came forward.
"We have to be creative to keep forward motion, to keep tension on the Morgan case," said Gil. "If it's in people's minds then maybe more tips will come to the police."
They know the emotional toil of keeping alive the memory of a daughter; and that even an arrest and conviction won't bring her back.
"You get caught up and then the reason why all you're doing this smacks you in the face," Gil said. "You want what you had... which you can never have again."
People like Jarels and mother-daughter duo Helen and Ellen Messick have been there for Morgan's family. Neighbors fed the family for the three months Morgan was missing. Hundreds of friends and members of the community gathered on the family's street, burning candles in the hopes of bringing Morgan home.
"It's water displacement," Gil said. "We're received in the same magnitude as that we lost."
The Harringtons need another kind of support from Fairfax City.
Does anyone know this person?
There's a $150,000 reward for information resulting in an arrest. Please call state police at 434-352-3467 or contact Fairfax City Detective Mike Boone at 703-385-7959.