Sad days: Harrington family coping, waiting
It's been hell on earth for the parents of missing Virginia Tech student Morgan Dana Harrington.
"God, this has been a long week," says her father, Daniel "Dan" Harrington, who last saw his daughter around noon on Saturday, October 17, just hours before her disappearance from a concert in Charlottesville. "This," says mother Gilbert "Gil" Harrington, "has been physically, emotionally, quite a hit."
During a recent interview at their home in Roanoke, the couple speak fondly of the 20-year-old daughter they eagerly hope to see again; yet throughout an hour-long conversation, they occasionally refer to her, seven days gone at that point, in the past tense.
"You have a choice," says Gil, pronounced JILL, "you can dissolve in the corner or become hard and bitter– or forge a way to find something positive because that's what Morgan is, or was."
"She always called me Papa," says Dan. "She said she needed to get back Sunday because she had a math test."
The Harringtons' is a three-story brick house in a hilly neighborhood that, although tucked between Interstate 81 and the airport, remains exceedingly quiet on Saturday, October 24.
The day began at 5am with the parents arising for live crews from both NBC's Today show and CBS's Early Show. The couple express gratitude for the outpouring of support and for the outpouring of media, both of which they view as crucial to solving the case.
Dan Harrington's mobile phone rings. It's a reporter from FoxNews. Upstairs, the Harringtons' other child, 22-year-old Alex, who graduated last spring from UVA and now lives and works in New York, is asleep in his only sibling's bed. He's trying– his mother explains– to feel his sister's presence.
"He's been drifting around her room, looking in drawers," explains his mother. "There is an empty Morgan-shaped space right now."
Exactly seven days earlier, Morgan was in this house, having spent Friday night with the family and then the morning of Saturday, October 17, when she tried on a few potential outfits for the Metallica concert, the event from which she disappeared.
"You want your children to be loving and open," says Gil, wrestling with her own second-guessing as theories of stranger abduction at a heavy metal show abound. "We have tried to layer, layer love on Morgan. Maybe we've done her a disservice by not creating enough watchfulness."
Her father says Morgan drove herself and her longtime friend and Blacksburg roommate, Amy Melvin, to Harrisonburg to meet up with another longtime friend, Sarah Snead, who attends James Madison University, as well as a friend's boyfriend.
At 2pm, Morgan called her dad and confirmed that they'd safely arrived in Harrisonburg. The plan was still on for father and daughter on Sunday to balance her checkbook, which she'd overdrawn buying groceries.
Before Metallica took the stage, Morgan reportedly called Snead to say that although she had gotten shut out of the concert by leaving the venue, she would find a ride back to Harrisonburg, where she'd left her car.
"This is the perplexing part to us," says her father. "Why didn't she call her brother? Why didn't she call me?"
Online chatter percolates about whether she was a runaway, but the father points out that runaways don't often leave purse, phone– not to mention friends and family– in the lurch.
"We've gotten past the she-ran-away-with-a-boy idea," says Dan. "But I wish this had been the case."
More online chatter stems from the tight-lipped nature of investigations, which has left the public with the seemingly false explanation of a young woman's quest for a restroom leading to an exit from a building equipped with at least a dozen bathrooms–- and a no-reentry policy.
"We know that Morgan got out of the building," says her father, "and then it's like she fell off the earth."
On the front door of the Harrington home, there are seven white dots, familiar now to those following the case on findmorgan.com as the family's fond mantra to each other: "I love you 2 much, 4ever, and 1nce more."
"This is the girl," says her father, "who last week alone popped in on us and spent the night Wednesday and then popped up again Friday and spent the night."
For now, there are precious few "moments of normal" for the the family, says her mother. "You string them together toward a new life," she says, gesturing toward a table. "We were like this table with four legs, but we're contemplating being a tripod. Tripods are shaky, but they can hold things."