New details: Smart arrives as Morgan Harrington's parents launch search
"We will stop at nothing until she is found," says the father of missing Morgan Harrington, as he and his wife were joined in Charlottesville Wednesday by the father of once-abducted but miraculously recovered Utah resident Elizabeth Smart.
But before the November 4 press conference announcing that the public would be invited to join the search, new information suggests that the injured 20-year-old Virginia Tech student's efforts to regain entry to the John Paul Jones Arena after she somehow ended up outside during an October 17 Metallica concert were more intense than previously reported.
"She did make a few attempts to get back into the arena at different entrances," says Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrinne Geller in an email, declining to elaborate on which entrances or exactly how many times she tried. Previously, police had confirmed only one attempt around the time of her last phone communication with her friends, an 8:48pm incoming call.
"She did not make any other phone calls on her phone," Geller said at the press conference.
In a pre-press conference email, Geller declined to elaborate on the number and source of texts sent or received, but Morgan's father, Dan Harrington, told national crime show anchor Nancy Grace that his daughter texted that night with a "young man" who was not in the Charlottesville area and was not considered a suspect.
Morgan's purse and battery-less phone were found Sunday morning, October 18, in the RV parking lot adjacent to the UVA track, where Morgan was seen, according to a police timeline, between 9:10 and 9:20pm the previous night. The phone's battery, says Geller, has not been recovered.
One of the perplexing questions–- and one that police may have an answer to, even if they're not sharing–- is how Morgan ended up outside, alone. At Wednesday's press conference, Geller shot down the rumor that Morgan might have been ejected from the Arena.
"We have no information to believe," says Geller, "that she was forced to leave or asked to leave, or anything of that nature."
Security at the 16,000-seat facility is outsourced to RMC Events, a Richmond-based firm with a Charlottesville office. Company President Dan Schmitt declined comment, referring questions to Arena management, who also declined comment.
In the days immediately following Morgan's disappearance, however, the Arena's General Manager Larry Wilson defended John Paul Jones' policy of prohibiting reentry during events as "standard operating procedure of every major venue I know of in the country."
Security personnel working the doors, Wilson explained, are trained to inform anyone leaving the arena that they won't be allowed back in, even with a ticket stub.
According to Morgan's father, dean of academic affairs for Roanoke's Carilion Clinic, Morgan left her friends to use the bathroom before Metallica took the stage. Early speculation focused on whether she got lost on her way to find one of the 18 women's restrooms in the Arena.
Witnesses have reported seeing her at various points both inside and outside the Arena after she separated from her friends, and police recently confirmed that she suffered a facial cut, but one that was too minor to suggest an assault.
Geller says police have reviewed hours of surveillance footage from the Arena and from area businesses yet have found no images of Morgan. But according to the owner of the closest convenience store to John Paul Jones Arena, the 7-11 on Ivy Road, it was several days before investigators reviewed her store's tapes.
"I believe it was Wednesday, October 21," says 7-11 franchise owner Sabiha Raja.
Asked why it took so long, Geller said at the press conference, "It depends when that information might have come in."
An employee of nearby BB&T bank declined comment on investigators reviewing surveillance at the bank, and the manager of the Cavalier Inn Best Western on Emmet Street did not return the Hook's call by posting time.
The grieving parents have invited a tsunami of media coverage from local and national outlets. They are inviting interested searchers to a 7pm meeting on Thursday, November 5 at the Cavalier Inn in preparation for a massive search coordinated by a group called the Laura Recovery Center this weekend.
And bringing in Ed Smart offers a new round of headlines. But according to former FBI profiler Mark Safarik, now a consultant in Northern Virginia, every day that passes is bad news.
"Time is the enemy," he says. "Evidence degrades." And police currently don't seem to have much to work with.
"They have a crime area, but not a scene," he notes. "When you don't have a scene, you don't know where she disappeared, or how, and you're left trying to figure out what you do have."
After the press conference, Morgan's mother, Gil, remarked that her brother's best friend in high school was Franz Stillfried. As longtime Charlottesvillians may recall, the wheelchair-bound Stillfried died in 1988 when he and his heavy motorized chair rolled down the ravine at the site of today's John Paul Jones Arena.
"It makes me happy," Harrington said, "that Franz might be looking over Morgan."
Lead investigator State Police Lt. Joe Rader urges tipsters–- who may remain anonymous–- to call the tip line at 434-352-3467 or email information to email@example.com. The reward now officially tops $150,000.
–last updated at 3:13pm (with press conference photo and info) –original headline: 'Still missing: Ed Smart joins Harrington parents; new details emerge'