"This is about accountability," says Gil Harrington, pictured with her daughter Morgan, who was killed after being denied reentry to the John Paul Jones Arena by the RMC Events security firm.
On the same night it barred an injured and disoriented Morgan Harrington from reentering UVA's John Paul Jones Arena during a Metallica concert in October 2009, the firm providing concert security helped an intoxicated off-duty Fairfax police officer attending the show to find a safe ride, according to an amended complaint against Richmond-based RMC Events, filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court by Morgan's mother, Gil Harrington.
The amended complaint, filed Tuesday, March 26, asks for $3.9 million in damages– up from the original $3.5 million– and offers greater detail than the original complaint filed by Harrington in Roanoke County Circuit Court in October 2011. Among the allegations added: that Morgan, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, had suffered a two- to three-inch gash on her chin (that was bleeding "substantially") and a serious head injury, and that RMC staffers ignored her distress and prevented her from rejoining her friends, even though on other occasions, RMC had allowed concert attendees to break the no-reentry policy to retrieve their wallets from their cars.
Furthermore, the complaint cites the frequently violent themes in heavy-metal music songs, as well as 40 reported assaults that occurred within a half mile of the arena in the three years prior to Harrington's disappearance and death as evidence that RMC acted with negligence in barring her reentry and should have known serious harm to her was a possible outcome.
"As a direct and proximate result of the Defendant's breach of the foregoing duties, Morgan Harrington was abducted and murdered," the suit reads.
Messages left for RMC Event management were not returned by press time.
As previously reported by the Hook, after being denied reentry to the arena, Harrington interacted with several concertgoers and, according to police, members of the UVA men's basketball team. She was last seen hitchhiking on the Copeley Road Bridge around 9:30pm, something her parents say was out of character. Her purse was found in the overflow parking lot adjacent to the UVA track the following morning. Her skeletal remains were found three months after her disappearance on an Albemarle County farm about nine miles away. Her death has been linked by DNA to an unsolved 2005 Fairfax sexual assault.
"We are trying very hard to make something positive come from the fact that our daughter was killed," says Gil Harrington, reached by phone. "Part of it is to continue to solicit information so we can find this particular killer and get him off the streets."
Among the positive steps the Harringtons have taken is the launch of Help Save the Next Girl, a nonprofit program aimed at increasing safety awareness among college students in particular.
The civil suit is a "natural corollary to that program to the extent that it highlights the importance of third-party awareness," says the Harrington's Charlottesville-based attorney, Lee Livingston, in a prepared statement.
"It isn’t enough for young women like Morgan to be vigilant. Occasions will arise when young women need others to attend to them and offer reasonable care to them," Livingston continues. "Some persons attended to Morgan and were helpful on a dark night in October 2009. This case may shed light on whether others who saw her in distress acted in ways to keep her out of harm’s way."
While the lawsuit is about accountability, Gil Harrington says, any judgment eventually awarded would also enable her and her husband, Dan, to do work in Morgan's memory to help prevent other violent crimes.
"There's no amount of money that would make this okay," she says, "but there's a certain amount of money that I can do a lot of good with and, given the chance, I intend to."