Morgan milestone: UVA, Harringtons to unveil plaque on sad anniversary
Christmas. Her 21st birthday. The beginning of a new school year. Over the past 12 months, Dan and Gil Harrington have marked one milestone after another without their daughter, Morgan, who disappeared after attending a Metallica concert last fall and whose remains were discovered on a remote corner of an Albemarle County farm in January. On October 17, the Harringtons will mark another grim milestone: the one year anniversary of Morgan's disappearance.
As they have done frequently over the past year, the Harringtons will visit the Copeley Road bridge–- the place Morgan was last seen alive–- where a shrine grew to cover most of the southeast corner of the bridge with mementos, messages, and banners dedicated to Morgan. But while on previous visits the Harringtons have stood alone, speaking to supporters and members of the media, this time they will be accompanied by representatives of the university for a dedication of a permanent plaque that will take the place of the multi-colored memorial, whose array of photos, candles, flowers, and other mementos were packed up and sent to the Harringtons on October 4.
"Morgan's disappearance, the hopeful search and later the heartbreaking discovery of her remains had an enormous effect on the University community," said Patricia Lampkin, UVA's vice president and chief student affairs officer, in a released statement about the event. Although there seemed to be a break in the case in July, when police announced that DNA evidence linked Morgan's killing with a 2005 assault in Fairfax, there have been no significant developments announced since then.
There have, however, been positive developments at the UVA, says Gil Harrington, who says she perceives greater transparency and a stronger focus on safety– both of which she attributes to new President Teresa Sullivan.
"There's most definitely a change," she says. "I tell people that some of the things that we have done are measurable," she says, mentioning the construction of a school in Zambia in Morgan's honor and a scholarship fund in Morgan's name at the new Carilion Medical School in Roanoke.
"To shift the culture is an abstract and subtle thing," she says. "It's like moving an ocean liner; it takes a while." At UVA, Harrington believes, "the ship has moved by several degrees."
That movement, she says, is illustrated by several things, including the recent "Day of Dialogue: Toward a more caring community," and a new safety program for first year students. "It's about personal safety, looking out for each other, being a community, not being separate things rotating in a similar orbit," says Harrington.
"I think that what appeared to be an uptick in incidents of assaults is really a different way of recording them and acknowledging them," she says.
UVA spokesperson Carol Wood has not yet responded to the Hook's request for comment on these apparent Sullivan-driven changes.
On a personal note, Harrington says, Sullivan contacted her and Dan "within the first two to three weeks of her being here," and the Harringtons had an in-person meeting with both the President and VP Lampkin to discuss their concerns.
"They have been most respectful and collegial," Harrington says of UVA administrators.
Both Harringtons will speak at the anniversary event, which begins at 2pm with a speech by UVA Executive Vice President and Provost Arthur Garson and the unveiling of the plaque, which will bear Morgan's name, her year of birth and death, and the brief message: "A student at our sister institution, Virginia Tech, Ms. Harrington was last seen alive on this bridge on October 17, 2009.
After the closing dedication, the event will move to the Newcomb Hall Theatre for a screening of A Gift for the Village, a documentary about Virginia Tech artist and professor Jane Vance, who taught Morgan and who was chosen to paint an eminent Tibetan healer as part of a soon-to-be extinct tradition. Vance dedicated the film to Morgan, who appears briefly. A reception will follow the screening in the Newcomb Hall lobby at 4pm.
–Story updated Friday, October 15 at noon. (Harrington's comments on UVA's increased transparency)