Lt. Joe Rader, pictured here at a 2009 press conference, is reaching out to the person who could help solve the Morgan Harrington case.
Courtesy Harrington Family
Nearly a year after he retired from Virginia State Police, leaving one of the highest-profile unsolved crimes in Virginia history to his successors, the former supervisor of the Morgan Harrington murder case remains haunted and has penned an open letter addressed to someone he believes knows what happened to the slain 20-year-old Virginia Tech student after she left the John Paul Jones Arena on a misty October night three years ago.
"I have not run away from wanting to help find the TRUTH of what happened that chilly October night at JPJA and the bridge in Charlottesville," writes Retired Lt. Joe Rader, in an appeal to an unidentified person who knows what happened, even if he or she was not directly involved in Morgan's death.
"It is time for YOU to DO THE RIGHT THING and free the burden of your conscience with the information you have," reads the letter, in which Rader capitalizes certain words to emphasize the personal accountability for the secret-keeper.
As extensively reported, the young woman disappeared after she left and was denied reentry to the Metallica concert on October 17, 2009. Witnesses last reported seeing her hitchhiking on the Copeley Road bridge around 9:30pm. Her remains were discovered three months later on an Albemarle County Farm, and DNA evidence links the case to an unknown assailant in a 2005 Fairfax sexual assault. The perpetrator remains unknown, but Rader believes there is someone out there who could help bring him to justice.
"It is time for YOU to stand up in the name of humanity and justice," he writes. "It is time for YOU to show that you have a sympathetic and dignified place in your heart so heavily troubled, regardless of your involvement in the circumstances leading to Morgan’s death."
The full-page letter (linked below) is written on the letterhead of the nonprofit group that Morgan's parents Gil and Dan Harrington founded, Help Save the Next Girl, which raises awareness of violence against women. Most recently, says Gil Harrington, the group teamed with the Girl Scouts to provide age-appropriate education for a "safety badge" in Virginia.
Three years after Harrington's disappearance and death, her mother says the family seeks meaning by helping others, including frequent trips to Zambia through the nonprofit Orphan Medical Network International, where a recently opened school wing named for Morgan celebrated the first two classes of eighth graders passing the government exams at a 100 percent rate– "unheard of," Gil says, for most schools there. But while building such a legacy for her daughter tempers some of the grief, Mrs. Harrington says the family still suffers terrible anguish– compounded by not knowing what happened or who was responsible.
"You think you're doing okay," she says, "then you get blindsided."
Anyone with information about Morgan Harrington's death or disappearance is asked to call Virginia State Police tip line at 434-352-3467.