Harrington family returns to Charlottesville

Family members recognize fourth anniversary of daughter's murder, seek to raise awareness


Friends and family of Morgan Harrington gathered Thursday afternoon on Copeley Bridge to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the then-20-year-old Virginia Tech student’s disappearance following a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena in 2009. Harrington’s body was discovered on Anchorage Farm in Albemarle County three months after her kidnapping.

The group was joined on the bridge by the family of Alexis Murphy, a 17-year-old Lovington, Va. native who was last seen Aug. 3 at a gas station.

The gathering was part of an effort to create a lasting positive legacy for Harrington and to bring attention to the unsolved Harrington case, the ongoing search for Murphy and the potential dangers college students face in Charlottesville and across Virginia.

“There’s a killer out there whose appetite only increases,” Morgan’s mother Gil Harrington said. “Charlottesville, don’t let this happen again.”

Following the addition of a fourth black ribbon to a post on Copeley Bridge, the place where Harrington was last seen alive, Gil Harrington read aloud a letter to her daughter.

“You were bursting with potential,” she read. “While I cannot understand the desire to hurt and maim, evil does exist.”

The two families also asked for more information related to the crimes and for a better understanding of what happened.

“People just don’t disappear,” Morgan’s father Dan Harrington said. “Someone took my daughter, raped her and killed her, and someone knows what happened.”

Morgan’s aunt Angele Taylor said small actions, such as assailants going slightly out of their way to explore rural areas, could potentially have a huge impact on the investigation. “No tip is too small,” she said. “We need to make sure that we do not have another ‘next girl.’”

Jane Lillian Vance, one of Morgan’s professors at Virginia Tech, urged students to play an active role in defending themselves and others and to avoid being a bystander. “Never let your friends be alone,” Vance said. “You pick up the vibe of the people who are not present in their own minds and not present to their surroundings.”

Vance also spoke about Kathryn’s Law, a proposed measure in the Virginia General Assembly that would require university police forces to report felonies to external law enforcement for additional review. She said that the law, which is currently on hold in the legislature, remains so because students do not know about it. The law is named after Kathryn Russell, a University student who was allegedly raped in her off-Grounds apartment, but whose assailant was never punished by the school.

Since Morgan’s murder, Harrington’s parents have created Help Save the Next Girl, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate young women and girls about the dangers of predatory crime. The awareness campaign stresses taking action instead of being a bystander.

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