January 27, 2010 — The discovery Tuesday morning of skeletal remains believed to be those of Morgan Dana Harrington brought profound grief to her family and friends and sadness to two university communities.
At Virginia Tech, where Harrington, 20, was a junior education major, President Charles Steger said the news took away hope for a happy ending. "Once again, we find our strength and resilience tested in the face of profound grief and loss," he wrote in an open letter.
Harrington's disappearance Oct. 17 during a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena also touched the U.Va. and Charlottesville communities, which had searched for her in vain.
"The University community is deeply saddened by today's news about Morgan Harrington," Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va. executive vice president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday. "Our hearts go out to Morgan's parents, Gil and Dan, to her brother, Alex, and to our friends in the Virginia Tech community at this very difficult time."
He added, "We are grateful to members of the larger community for the extraordinary support and commitment they have exhibited since Morgan's disappearance. We had all hoped and prayed for a different outcome."
Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, acknowledged at a press conference early Tuesday evening that police were making the announcement of Harrington's discovery "with heavy hearts."
Although the identity of the remains was not confirmed until today, Flaherty said that police are confident it was Harrington a farm owner discovered in a remote hay field about eight miles south of Charlottesville. He emphasized that the investigation is in its infant stages. "We have more questions than answers," he said.
Lt. Joe Rader, a state police investigator, said that the case is likely a homicide. He added that the focus of the investigation now will be on recovering evidence, determining how Harrington died and "bringing this case to justice."
Witnesses last saw Harrington at 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 17, hitchhiking on the Copeley Road Bridge on U.Va.'s Grounds. State police are working with police for the University, city and county on the investigation. Anyone with information about the case is urged to call the state police tip line at 434-352-3467 or University Police at 434-924-7166, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The University Police Department will continue to do all it can to support the Virginia State Police as they work to solve this case," Sandridge said.
Dan Harrington, who works at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, holds dual appointments at Virginia Tech and the U.Va. School of Medicine. He and his wife, Gil, kept their daughter's disappearance in the public eye with a blog, media interviews and fundraisers.
Harrington released a statement today expressing sadness but also relief.
"Gil and I are overwhelmingly saddened by yesterday's discovery, but we are also relieved because our questions can now be answered and we can give our daughter a proper burial," he said. "We know that because of the good life Morgan led and the love she created for everyone around her, she is now in a safer, better place."
Sandridge said the University has assured "the Harrington family of our concern and offered to help during this difficult period in any way we can."