'Shattered bones,' Harringtons say Morgan's killer is 'violent, sadistic'
Her parents desperately wish it weren't so, but they say they're convinced: Morgan Harrington suffered before she was killed.
On the five month anniversary of the Virginia Tech student's disappearance and less than two months after her remains were discovered in a remote area of a southern Albemarle County farm, her parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, spoke to reporters in front of the John Paul Jones Arena, where Morgan attended an October 17 Metallica show the night of her disappearance, to beg anyone with information about the case to come forward and to urge caution in the Charlottesville community.
"A monster walks among you," Gil Harrington says, calling her daughter's killer a "violent, sadistic and dangerous man."
Although a medical examiner quickly ruled 20-year-old Morgan's death a homicide after her body was discovered January 26, police have been silent in recent weeks and have released no further information on her cause of death.
However, her parents, both medical professionals, say signs of violence were obvious on their daughter's remains, which were released from evidence and returned to them in February.
"He chooses to kill in a savage and brutal way," says Gil Harrington, an oncology nurse, of her daughter's killer, "to break her bones before he murdered her." Dan Harrington, a psychiatrist, confirms that his daughter's skeleton showed "brutal damage."
While the Harringtons won't say which of Morgan's bones were broken–- and acknowledge that they do not yet know her actual cause of death, pending the release of the official autopsy report–- they remain convinced that the person responsible is an experienced criminal and may be a convicted sex offender.
"This is not his first crime," Gil Harrington says. "He has upped his game in a significant and disturbing way."
Preparing to leave for a two-week relief trip to Zambia with the medical aid nonprofit OMNI, Gil says she feels increasingly "frantic" to see her daughter's killer brought to justice and is having a hard time leaving the country with a killer on the loose and other women in danger.
"I have some foolish sense," she explains, "that I can keep something from happening."
While police are staying tight-lipped in public, the Harringtons say they are receiving weekly briefings from investigators and are encouraged that there are some leads including, Dan Harrington says, a focus on "a number of individuals locally."
Finding their daughter's killer remains their priority, but both Harringtons say they have other questions about events surrounding their daughter's disappearance and death.
"Has anything changed at JPJ?" Dan Harrington asks, later noting that he doesn't object, per se, to the Arena's no re-entry policy that kept his daughter from getting back inside, but that he does wonder why she received no assistance when multiple witnesses have reported seeing her with blood on her face and attempting to get in at multiple entrances. He also wonders aloud at how a new venue with reportedly state-of-the-art video surveillance could fail to capture footage of his daughter either inside or outside. "There is no video of Morgan," he says.
UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says the Arena's safety policies are under review and have been modified since Morgan's disappearance and death. The Arena has further trained ushers and ticket takers on dealing with patrons "who they believe might be in distress," she says, and any time a patron asks to leave the Arena, staff members are now required to notify a manager. Finally, if there is "any doubt" about the condition of a patron, Wood says, police will now be called.
Dan Harrington also suggests a possible link between Morgan's abduction and death and other unsolved cases in Virginia, including the Colonial Parkway murders, eight deaths that occurred along the Colonial Parkway east of Richmond between 1986 and 1989, and the Route 29 stalker, who terrorized female drivers in the mid-'90s and who is believed responsible for the March 1996 abduction and killing of 25-year-old grad student Alicia Showalter Reynolds, who'd been traveling to Charlottesville for a day of shopping with her mother at Fashion Square Mall. Reynolds' decomposed remains were discovered by a passerby two months later in a field near the community of Lignum.
That case remains active, and on March 1, the Virginia State Police posted a Facebook page asking for "new info" on Reynolds. Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller says that the Facebook posting does not indicate that police believe the cases are connected but was timed to coincide with the 14th anniversary of Reynolds' disappearance on March 2.
At the press conference Wednesday, March 17, the Harringtons distributed a list of 21 other missing or murdered people–- 14 women, including Morgan–- who have disappeared or been murdered in Central Virginia in the past eight months and whose cases remain unsolved.
"We're concerned," says Dan. "Is security [in Charlottesville] any different now than it was five months ago?"
For the Harringtons, there is nothing to do but wait for a break in the case. Gil Harrington writes in her journal, posted on the family's findmorgan.com web page, that imagining Morgan's last moments torments her, particularly at night.
"I try not to think of how scared you were, the terror you felt. I try not to think of how much pain you were in as you were slaughtered," she writes. "Were you still alive when they brought you to Anchorage Farm? To be hunted like a deer running frantically over the hay stubble in the field desperate to escape, trying to survive, crying, screaming, I see it. I hear it. Or, were you brought there already dead, like a slab of meat, carrion to be discarded and dumped in the field to rot–- just another carcass in the hunting preserve."
With no arrest, the Harringtons can only hope that someone will finally offer the tip that will bring Morgan's killer to justice and perhaps bring them some peace.
"There is still evil afoot in this town," says Gil. "He must be stopped."
–7:01pm: Story updated with UVA's response on JPJ policy