Police believe remains belong to Harrington

Skeletal remains found on local farm likely belong to missing Tech student, officials report

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State and local police officials announced yesterday that they are now "fairly confident" they have found the skeletal remains of Morgan Dana Harrington, the 20-year-old Virginia Tech student who went missing Oct. 17 during a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena.

David Bass, the owner of Anchorage Farm in Albemarle County, discovered the remains in a hayfield while doing maintenance work on his 742-acre property, only eight miles south of Grounds.

"I was in a remote place on the farm that I rarely need to go to but I was checking fence lines because of the bad storm Sunday night," Bass said. After encountering the skeletal remains, he immediately contacted police officials at 9:53 a.m.

Both Albemarle County and Virginia State Police officers investigated the property until yesterday afternoon.

The remains are being transported to the chief medical examiner in Richmond for an examination and autopsy to scientifically confirm the identification of the remains, said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the state police.

The area in which the remains were found was not searched during the initial investigation following Harrington's October disappearance. After searching the areas surrounding JPJ, task forces performed specific spot searches deemed "prudent" at the time, State Police Lt. Joe Rader said.

The hayfield in which the remains were found was last cut in August 2009, Rader said, which would have decreased the likelihood that the remains would have been found earlier.

"During the time that Ms. Harrington disappeared, that hayfield would've been up to your waist," Rader said, adding that the large volume of snow in the Charlottesville area since October also reduced a person's ability to see the body.

After identifying the remains, police forces will begin to investigate the case as a homicide, Rader said. Investigators are hopeful that new evidence will help determine how Harrington came to be in this remote location, the time of death and who was responsible, Flaherty said.

"We have a perpetrator or perpetrators at large who we certainly intend to prosecute," Rader said. Until that time, Flaherty encouraged the public to continue to call in tips about the disappearance of Harrington.

Rader said Harrington's parents are reacting to the news like any normal parents would in the same situation. Rader also indicated that Gill and Dan Harrington are currently in the Charlottesville area.

Leonard Sandridge, University executive vice president and chief operating officer, expressed the University community's remorse to the Harrington family in a statement released yesterday.

"We are grateful to members of the larger community for the extraordinary support and commitment they have exhibited since Morgan's disappearance," Sandridge said in the statement. "We had all hoped and prayed for a different outcome. The University Police Department will continue to do all it can to support the Virginia State Police as they work to solve this case."

Virginia Tech President Charles Steger also released an open letter yesterday.

"For more than three months, the entire Virginia Tech community, along with thousands upon thousands around the world, has held out hope for the safe return of Morgan Harrington," he said. "Sadly, today's news from Albemarle County has put an end to that hope, and once again, we find our strength and resilience tested in the face of profound grief and loss"

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