He's here: Harringtons warn killer he'll be caught
They don't know who killed their daughter, but Morgan Harrington's parents say they remain certain about where he lives, and that he will be caught.
"There is a bad guy here in Charlottesville," Dan Harrington pointedly told reporters gathered by Morgan's memorial on the Copeley Road bridge on Thursday morning, February 18, after he and Morgan's mother, Gil, finished meeting with law enforcement.
Recalling lone female joggers he and Gil saw earlier that morning crossing the bridge and praising both UVA and Virginia Tech for emailing messages to all of their students, specifically referring to Morgan, Dan Harrington cautioned, "Students and citizens to be aware of their surroundings and not make themselves unsafe."
While the Medical Examiner in Richmond has publicly ruled Morgan's death a homicide, her parents may also know more specifically how their daughter died. Asked if police had shared her cause of death, the Harringtons paused and looked at each other before replying. "That," said Dan, "you'd need to get from police."
State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller declined comment, citing toxicology tests still being conducted by the Medical Examiner.
One forensic expert says he believes there should be plentiful physical evidence, even if Morgan perished the night of the Metallica concert, October 17, thanks to cool fall nights followed by the two-foot blanket of snow that buried Central Virginia from mid-December until days before January 26 when Morgan's remains were discovered by Anchorage Farm owner Dave Bass as he rode his tractor checking fences.
"In decomposition, a major factor is temperature," says Dr. Bill Bass, a UVA-educated forensic scientist and founder of "The Body Farm," a research facility in Knoxville, Tennessee that studies the breakdown of human remains and which was the subject of the eponymous 1994 novel by Patricia Cornwell.
Bass, who is no relation to the Anchorage Farm owner but who coincidentally owns his own farm near Lynchburg, says toxicology tests and DNA tests can be run on minimal amounts of tissue, even on partially or mostly skeletonized remains, as Morgan's have been described by both police and her parents.
While forensic expert Bass is not working on Morgan's case, he says the medical examiner's immediate ruling that Morgan's death is a homicide suggests "they have found something in the body that is damaged. It could be a gunshot, could be stabbing." Toxicology and DNA tests can take weeks, even months, to complete, he notes, although he says it's reasonable to believe police know the cause of death but "may not want to say yet" for investigative purposes.
The Harringtons held a public funeral mass and reception in Roanoke on Friday, February 5, but didn't receive Morgan's remains until the following week, an event that Gil Harrington has detailed in poetry and blog posts at the family's findmorgan.com, including one titled "Jewelry," about a heavy silver bracelet Morgan wore when she died, and which Gil now wears on her own arm.
Police and the Harringtons decline comment on any other items recovered with Morgan's body including a widely publicized Swarovsky crystal necklace; however Dan Harrington seemed to suggest that the bracelet was not the only piece of jewelry found.
"He didn't even want her jewelry," he said, adding his belief that Morgan's death was a sexual assault that "ended up in her murder."
The Harringtons have become familiar to millions of people through news coverage, and their grace in the face of personal devastation has further endeared them to strangers who comment extensively on Facebook and other Morgan-devoted blogs.
Their dedication to solving the mystery surrounding their daughter was once again on display Thursday, as they acknowledged that while they will never find closure or move past the loss, they do not seek to blame her friends or the John Paul Jones Arena, which has a policy that locked Morgan out during the October 17 Metallica show.
"Her killer is to blame," they said, soon after cutting three yellow ribbons from a lightpole on the bridge. Those yellow ribbons signified the three months they'd hoped Morgan would come home safely. One black ribbon, signifying her death, will remain on the lightpole, they say, until her killer is found and brought to justice.
"This ain't going to end," said Gil gesturing to the memorial, the ribbons, and the cameras aimed at her, "until Morgan finds justice."
–Correction: Patricia Cornwell's The Body Farm was published in 1994.