Parents appeal for help in search for missing daughter
"It's like she just fell off the face of the Earth," student's father says

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Daniel Harrington's sock drawer is filled with cards his daughter, Morgan, has written over the years. Birthday, Valentine's Day, Christmas.

Now, he and his wife, Gil, fear there will be no more.

Morgan Harrington, 20, a Virginia Tech junior, was last seen Oct. 17 when she separated from friends at a Metallica concert in Charlottesville.

The willowy blonde ended up outside the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena and couldn't get back in. She talked to one of her friends by cellphone, saying not to worry, that she'd get home on her own. But she never returned.

"It's like she just fell off the face of the Earth," Daniel Harrington said.

Morgan, an education major, is close to her parents and visits their Roanoke house often. She is a music buff whose eclectic tastes are on display in a bedroom in which Black Sabbath and Bob Marley posters hang alongside a Barry Manilow record. She spent her high school summers working with children who have witnessed domestic violence.

"Morgan was shiny," her mother said, then stopped herself. "When I hear myself use 'was' instead of 'is,' it makes me feel bad. When this started, I told myself I was not going to do that. But now I catch myself doing it."

This week, friends and volunteers handed out fliers at voting booths in the Roanoke area. And a Texas group that helps find missing children is leading volunteers in searches this weekend.

The Harringtons are offering a $100,000 reward for information to find their daughter. Metallica is offering $50,000. Police have reviewed video surveillance cameras from the area and have asked fans to check concert photos and videos for signs of Harrington, and they are sorting through hundreds of tips. So far, the search has come up empty.

Harrington was last seen about 9:30 p.m., walking alone on the Copeley Road railroad bridge near the arena. She had a scratch on her chin, witnesses told police, but officers said they think it probably was from an accidental bump or fall, not an attack. Her purse and cellphone were found the next day in a grassy lot used for overflow parking.

"From there, the trail goes cold," said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller. "We still want people to come forward. Even the most trivial information might be the piece of the puzzle we need."

Investigators said they want to hear from anyone who saw someone matching Morgan's description get into a car or from anyone who saw a vehicle "randomly stopped" on Copeley Road.

Gil Harrington last saw her daughter the morning of the concert. Morgan, calling on her mother for a fashion consultation, was trying on outfits. They settled on a black Pantera T-shirt, black miniskirt, black tights and knee-high black boots. Morgan made a point of making sure the boots weren't too high so she'd be able to dance, her mother said.

Morgan talked with her father, who was at work, on the phone. They made plans for the next day. He promised to help her study for a math quiz and balance her checkbook.

Morgan bounded out of the house about noon and said goodbye to her mother using the family's traditional greeting: "Two, four, one, Mama." Shorthand for: "I love you too much, forever, and one more time."

Daniel Harrington, an associate dean at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and his wife have tucked their daughter's toothbrush and hairbrush into a plastic bag so that, if remains are found, police will have DNA. They gave officers a shirt that Morgan had considered wearing to the concert, but then discarded, so that a tracking dog can learn her scent.

Morgan's brother, Alex, 22, asked his mother how to handle the pain.

The most mundane moments trigger overwhelming sadness. Her mother spots the Doritos, one of her daughter's favorite snacks, in the kitchen cabinet. A family friend dressed their dog, a silky terrier named Kirby, as a lion for Halloween. Gil Harrington's first thought was to snap a photo to e-mail to her daughter, who adored Kirby and would have gotten a kick out of the get-up.

"Our best scenario is, we are hoping our daughter is being held somewhere against her will," she said.

One recent morning, the Harringtons broke down as they opened Daniel's sock drawer and flipped through the cards. They paused at one that Morgan gave them last Christmas.

"I feel like we talk so much about so many things," their daughter wrote. She thanked them for listening when she had a problem and for paying her rent so she could concentrate on school. "Just this year you guys helped me spread my wings and enter my adult life. Thank you for all you do for me."

The Harringtons are trying to spread the word about their daughter in newspapers and on TV. Appealing for help is all they can do. They are convinced that someone can give police the clue they need.

"Morgan is somewhere," her father said. "We just want our daughter back."

Virginia State Police ask that anyone with information about Morgan Harrington call the tip line at 434-352-3467 or e-mail bci-appomattox@vsp.virginia.gov.

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