When a personal crisis is overwhelming, people typically look to their family, closest friends and their faith for strength.
In the tragic story of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, the community has also played a large part in helping the Harrington family.
From the moment it was discovered this past October that their 20-year-old daughter had gone missing from a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, the Harringtons immediately began to receive critical support from the communities of Roanoke, Virginia Tech and Charlottesville.
Morgan’s father, Dan Harrington, sadly recalls, “Gil and I realized at 5 o’clock on the Monday following Morgan’s disappearance, that the only thing we could do was to get Morgan’s name out to the public.”
Harrington continued, “We are normally a very private people, but now we are thrown into the public eye.” Accordingly, any help offered to get the word out was welcomed by the family.
People stepped up very quickly to help the Harringtons to do just that.
Nancy Agee, who works with Dan Harrington, called him on the third day after Morgan’s disappearance with the news that co-workers had raised $50,000 as a reward for information on Morgan’s disappearance. Harrington said, “Three hours later, Nancy called me back to tell me it had already risen to $100,000. I never asked anyone to do this. They just did it.”
In addition to collecting reward money, people previously unknown to the Harringtons came in to assist. Brandon Havens constructed a website, FindMorgan.com, while Kenny Jarels, Jamie Waldrop and Amanda StClair signed on to be the message board moderators.
Once the website was established, the Harringtons concentrated on other ways to keep their daughter in the public eye. “Spreading the word was the most important thing of all,” said Harrington.
As time passed, other creative things began to happen.
Kenny Jarels from Virginia Tech solicited the help of the Virginia Tech athletic department. Coaches Seth Greenberg, Frank Beamer, Beth Dunkenberger, Scot Thomas and Pete Hughes made jerseys with Morgan’s name on them, donated balls signed by their athletes, and wore her ribbon as they coached their teams…all to help keep Morgan in people’s minds.
The efforts continued to snowball as more and more people came on board to support the cause. Those efforts included hundreds of people turning out for the Laura Recovery Center Searches in Charlottesville, while others passed out flyers, buttons and bumper stickers, concerned neighbors and church members delivered dinners to the family and people organized worldwide candlelight vigils. There was even a group of 29 women called the “Warriors” who banded together from across the country to support Morgan.
The community also responded in more personal ways. Reverend Stephen McNally, Dan Harrington’s pastor, called to tell him that a group of priests had just prayed for Morgan in their meeting together in Richmond. Just this month, 300 people came out and physically stood behind Dan Harrington in a counter-protest when the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas protested at Virginia Tech. Other support includes people from around the world who sketched drawings, created paintings and wrote cards of concern for the family.
Having all these people step up to help the family has allowed Dan Harrington to have the time to lobby Congress regarding women’s public safety issues, a cause he now holds dear.
Asked why there is so much public outreach going to the Harringtons, Jamie Waldrop said, “Having a daughter Morgan’s age who is in college. I experienced an hour of her not returning my phone calls when she was supposed to be somewhere… it was one of the worst hours of my life. I can’t imagine the tortuous nightmare the Harringtons have been through. That was my impetus to get involved and it has only grown over the months.”
Kenny Jarels also offered, “Dan and Gil opened up their hearts and their home to us. They are loving people.”
People supported the Harringtons while the Harringtons worked with investigators themselves in the search for their missing daughter…a search which would later become one for their daughter’s killer.
With the hope of Morgan’s safe return gone, the Harringtons and the community are focusing their combined efforts toward one main goal – to find and bring Morgan’s killer to justice.
“They have put themselves out there in touch with the public. They have asked for and welcomed the help. Many tips and ideas have been submitted to police,” Waldrop said.
With all that has been done already, Dan Harrington has one last thing to ask of his community: “Morgan’s death cannot be in vain. The person(s) that killed Morgan is still out there. Somebody knows something. There is now a $150,041 reward for information leading to Morgan’s killers’ arrest and conviction.”By Wade Thompson firstname.lastname@example.org