Dan and Gil Harrington still call their daughter Morgan’s cell phone to simply listen to her voice — a voice they haven’t heard since her disappearance on Oct. 17, 2009.
“It is stupid to keep paying for her phone,” Gil Harrington said. “But we like to keep it and call her and hear her say, ‘I’ll get back to you as soon as I can' — but she never does.”
Morgan Harrington’s voice has been silenced, her physical presence diminished. But she remains an integral part of her parents lives, as they are left mourning and endlessly wondering who murdered their daughter.
Morgan, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, went missing when she was in Charlottesville for a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena. Her body was found 101 days later on Jan. 26, 2010.
More than a year after Virginia State Police uncovered her skeletal remains on Anchorage Farm outside Charlottesville, there has not been an arrest for her murder.
Dan said justice is important to him — he wants someone to pay for the crime, while his wife wants a dangerous person pulled off the streets.
“I am appalled that we have not been able to have an arrest,” he said.
There is a special agent working on Morgan’s case full time, but the Harringtons said crime investigations don’t pan out like they do on TV.
“I wish it was like ‘CSI’ where big aha moments (happen) and everything fits into place,” Gil said. “But they are still sifting through data. It happens at a snails pace.”
Virginia allows taking DNA from criminals arrested for certain violent felonies. DNA collected is submitted to the national DNA database.
Familial DNA testing is a forensic laboratory technique that searches for a particular individual’s DNA in the database as well as any related or family DNA.
“The idea is that criminality often involves more than one person in a family,” Gil wrote in an e-mail. “If an individual is unknown, his family members would have a good idea of who and where he is.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell recently approved the use of familial DNA testing in Virginia, the third state to do so after Colorado and California.
The Harringtons were active lobbyists for the approval and said they think the technology should be available to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Morgan’s case has been forensically linked to a 2005 rape and abduction that occurred in Fairfax, but the suspect is unknown.
A composite sketch was drawn based on the male suspect, which police released on July 1, 2010.
Gil said she hopes evidence from Morgan’s case has been submitted for familial DNA review, but she and her husband haven’t been given confirmation.
Gil explained that criminals’ DNA submission varies according to state and jurisdiction.
“You would think that there would be national standards,” she said. “Police have been trying to find registered sex offenders to get their DNA. Why don’t they already have it?”
Gil said she does think the man who killed her daughter will be found, but not fast enough.
“I hope he is found,” she said. “Rather than we wait for him to hurt someone else and wait for a DNA hit for another crime.”
“We know he has committed two very serious crimes,” Dan added.
Lobbying for a change in DNA legislation is part of what the Harringtons are doing to move forward. They are trying to create something good from their daughter’s murder.
“That makes it OK that you have done something instead of just sitting in the corner rocking, which is probably what you would like to do,” Gil said. “It doesn’t make it all better, but it makes it somewhat better.”
Morgan’s murder has become her parent’s haunting reality — the norm.
On the surface, Dan and Gil appear to be a typical middle-aged married couple.