Morgan's mystery: What happened outside arena?
Friday update: the reward announced at findmorgan.com for information leading to the young woman's safe return is $100,000.
"Witnesses and conversations" indicate that missing Virginia Tech student Morgan Dana Harrington– who left a concert in search of a bathroom– spent the hour between 8:30pm and 9:30pm Saturday outdoors near the John Paul Jones Arena, a time when the performance by Metallica, according to the venue manager, was underway.
The time information came October 21 before a phalanx of reporters at a press conference held at UVA Police headquarters by Lieutenant Joe Rader of the Virginia State Police, who also announced the then imminent reward fund and a new telephone line for anyone with tips about the blonde-haired, blue-eyed child of Dan and Jill Harrington.
"We have a purse, and we have a cell phone– we have a missing girl," says Rader. "Those are the facts."
Rader attempted to dispel concerns that the missing 20-year-old was under the influence of any substances but did confirm that Harrington merely intended to go to the bathroom when she found herself outside the Arena and, consequently, barred from reentry by Arena policy.
"She did call her friends when she got outside the Arena," says Rader, "and advised them because of the policy that she would not be coming back into the Arena and would find a way to get either up with them or to get home."
And that, says interested citizen Steve Burger, who watched the press conference online, is why he emailed police and suggested they interview roadies and members of the two "death metal" opening bands, Richmond-based Lamb of God and France-based Gojira.
Burger, a freelance journalist who has interviewed convicted killer Jens Soering, observes that Harrington reportedly kept her Metallica tickets on her refrigerator for six months and debuted her concert outfit for her mother.
"This was the event of the year for her," says Burger. "It's not very likely that she wouldn't try to get back in."
"I'm sure there must be a good reason for the policy of not readmitting people," says father Dan Harrington, who says his daughter likes all kinds of music, "but it certainly seems strange to me."
Venue manager Larry Wilson says that the no-reentry policy is "standard operating procedure for every facility I know of in the country" and points out that the Arena offers many bathrooms, concession stands, and even a smoking zone. He says door personnel are instructed to warn anyone attempting to leave during the show about the no-reentry policy.
Burger contends that while the Arena's front door personnel present a steep obstacle by blocking reentry, getting past roadies and security at a service entrance might be easier for "a beautiful girl like that in a black mini-skirt."
Burger drew no such link, but the so-called "Farmville murders" took place last month in another college town after a high school girl, who met a rapper at a horrorcore music festival, invited him to visit her family.
Lieutenant Rader seemed prepared to deal with this line of thinking, and he conceded that, despite the phone contact between Harrington and the two friends with whom she arrived, there was no arrangement for a post-concert meet-up.
"The friends were aware that they may not meet up with her after the concert," said Rader. "There was indication that she would manage to find a way to get away from the Arena."
Rader also confirmed– in a stunning parallel to the 1986 disappearance of never-found UVA student Pat Collins– that the Sunday morning discovery of Harrington's purse by a bystander in a small parking area didn't immediately launch a criminal investigation.
"It originally was handled as a recovered property report," said Rader.
The officer seemed to confirm that the young woman's cell phone was recovered without its battery but downplayed any significance. He also said that various jurisdictions offered officers–- on foot, with canines, and overhead in a helicopter–- to spend a third day Wednesday examining the area around the UVA athletic fields and the Arena.
"Today, we have concluded what we believe has been an appropriate time spent on a localized ground search," said Rader. "We don't know if she is alive or if she has met some kind of ill fate."
He said about 100 tips have come in–- including several reported sightings at impossibly concurrent sites across the country.
Morgan's father is no stranger to Charlottesville, having served on the UVA medical center faculty and sent his other child, a young man recently graduated, to UVA. Mr. Harrington says he hopes the $50,000 reward will draw more tips.
He says that Morgan left her car and its keys in Harrisonburg, where she and her roommate from Blacksburg, Amy Melvin, met up with a friend who drove so they could all arrive together.
"If anyone saw anything strange along Copeley or along Ivy Road," says Harrington, now vice-president for academic affairs for Carilion Clinic, "anything would be welcome."
The new tip line for information regarding the disappearance : 434-352-3467. "We'll actually have this manned 24/7 says state police spokesperson Corinne Geller.
–last updated 6:34pm, November 2 (corrects method Burger used to contact police, corrects internal contradiction about number of children in Harrington family, adds photo of possible parking area, adds detail from interview with Wilson on policies, and adds cell phone detail, father's note about car and keys, corrects year of Pat Collins disappearance, adds full audio of press conference, and adds new reward amount.)