The original Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy on May 20th, 1820 of British parents and died on August 13, 1910 in Mayfair, England. During her 90 years of life she was an English social reformer, statistician and is credited with founding the modern nursing profession. The foundation of professional nursing was created at her nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, England.
Today’s stellar subject easily clears the bar of nursing dedication, perseverance and professionalism exhibited by Florence Nightingale of almost two centuries ago. Gilberte Marion White was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1957 where her father was employed by Aramco (formerly Arabian-American Oil Company) after being a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Italy. Upon graduation from the K-9 Aramco-sponsored school in Saudi Arabia, she entered St. Anne’s-Belfield school in Charlottesville, VA., graduating in 1975.
Accepted into the UVA nursing school a short distance away, she graduated from UVA in 1979 with a BSN degree, starting her professional career in the ICU at UVA Hospital. In the ‘dirty laundry room’ at the hospital one day, she encountered a handsome West Virginian named Dan who was a resident in internal medicine and psychiatry. Gil says she invited Dan to dinner that evening hoping that he wouldn’t realize that he was the appetizer, the entrée, and the dessert. Gil and Daniel P. Harrington were married in the UVA campus chapel in 1984.
As happens in many marriages, a boy named Alex was delivered in 1987 and a girl named Morgan Dana was born in 1989. Dr. Daniel was invited to help develop a new therapy center at Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke and after a few months of commuting, the family moved to Roanoke. Eventually Dr. Harrington became involved full time with Memorial and is currently the Vice Dean at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke. Gil worked for many years as an oncology nurse at the local Carilion cancer center.
Following her commitment to family, seeking to help others and utilize her nursing skills, Gil commuted as far as Zurich frequently to help her gravely ill sister named Jacqueline, who passed away in 2004. Gil became aware of ‘Orphan Medical Network International’ (OMNI) in early 2006 and traveled with an OMNI medical team to Zambia, Africa that same year. OMNI has built a school on property owned by the organization near the town of Endola. The ‘pass’ rate for 8th grade OMNI school graduates is 100% on standardized exams, while the ‘pass’ rate for the same exams in government schools is 30%. Although the main focus of the organization is education, the school is bolstered by the 18-20 member annual medical team visits to the area. Gil’s 15th trip to Zambia with the medical team occurred in June 2018.
Daughter Morgan, 20 and a student at Virginia Tech left Roanoke in her car on October 17th, 2009 traveling with a couple friends headed to JMU to pick up a couple more friends going to the John Paul Jones arena on the UVA campus; the event was a ‘Metallica’ concert. After leaving the concert to find a restroom, Morgan wandered outside of the arena. She was prohibited from re-entering. Frustrated and confused by a fall on the steps inside the arena, she apparently decided to find her way back to Roanoke even though her car was located in a nearby parking lot. Although attempts were made by friends to reach her by phone, Morgan disappeared without a trace. On January 26th, 2010, remains were discovered outside Charlottesville in a field. An autopsy confirmed Morgan’s identity and tests proved that there were no drugs, alcohol or other toxins in her system.
The body of Hannah Graham, an18 year-old sophomore at UVA had been found on October 18th, 2014 just 35 days after she went missing. Her remains were in a field only a few miles from where Morgan’s body was found about four years earlier. Police investigation indicated that there was a connection between these two homicides. There was almost certainly a connection between the crimes of abduction, rape and attempted murder of a 26-year-old student from India in September of 2005 in Fairfax,VA and the person who killed Morgan and Hannah.
The evidence confirmed that the person committing the crimes in Fairfax, VA in 2005 was connected to the murders of Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham. The name of the 2005 victim was withheld so the court agreed to use only the victim’s initials (RG) to avoid disclosing her name.
This trial was held in Fairfax, VA Circuit Court where the victim of these crimes was the 26-year-old student (RG) from India. The defendant entered an ‘Alford Plea’ meaning the defendant pleaded innocence agreeing that if evidence were presented, a guilty plea could be achieved. The offenses were abduction, rape and attempted murder. For these crimes, the Circuit Court Judge handed down a prison term of three life sentences on October 2nd, 2015. The next trial went as follows:
In the Circuit Court of the County of Albemarle on the Criminal side thereof, Held on March 2, 2016 Commonwealth of Virginia vs. The Defendant DOB12/14/1981. Offenses: Abduction with intent to defile (2), First Degree murder (2), Capital Murder, Reckless Driving (2). The accused was arraigned after pleading guilty to the Indictments and On March 18th, 2016, trial by jury having been waived; the sentence of Four Life Sentence was imposed by the Court. The trials in Fairfax County and Charlottesville (Albemarle County) yielded a total of seven life sentences. The rule of law once again prevailed over the criminal acts of the defendant who can spend his remaining days pondering the meaning of eternity.
At the conclusion of the trial about evil and its consequences, nobility and triumph entered the scene. Sitting across the aisle from each other were the families of the defendant and the Harrington’s, following the absorption of the deliberate meaning of the sentences, the families rose and some magnetic divine power laced with grace and mercy without a dot or sliver of guilt, innocence or anger seemed to be exchanged in the embrace of the two mothers and the handshakes of other family members. No girl will ever again be threatened by this predator.
Life in the Harrington family has resumed with the constant memories of their terrible loss of beautiful daughter Morgan. Gil and Dan have absorbed the reality of her loss and have dived right back into the ocean of service. In her conversations with law enforcement Gil often mentioned (sort of a mantra) how can we ‘Help Save the Next Girl?’
Here are some excerpts from the website, ‘helpsavethenextgirl.com’: “Our non-profit organization began as a conduit to spread information and promote personal safety, and was founded by Dan and Gil Harrington, Morgan’s parents. With support from the community at large Help Save the Next Girl has grown to include a national team. Help Save the Next Girl works with many groups who focus on safety and violence prevention. Our organization keeps a strong social media presence. Help Save the Next Girl utilizes our network of followers to disseminate timely posts to reach a large number of interested people, and together create a zone of safety. We believe that a positive legacy for Morgan includes our commitment to keep other young women safe. We hope our efforts will help to prevent dangerous and tragic scenarios for other families. In the unfortunate circumstance of a missing person scenario, we will work to ameliorate the anguish, grief, and confusion that are prevalent at such times. In Morgan Harrington’s honor, we move forward, and try to Help Save the Next Girl.”
In addition to organizing Help Save the Next Girl, Gil & Dan have built ‘The Morgan Harrington Educational Wing’ of the OMNI sponsored school in Zambia, Africa and established ‘The Morgan Dana Harrington Memorial Scholarship’ at The VTC School of Medicine that awards funds to two medical students every year on an as need basis . Gil has co-authored a book entitled, “Morgan Harrington Murdered and Dead for Good”; subtitled “A Mother’s Quest to Find a Serial Killer and Healing.”
Epilogue: This story presents indelible evidence that good can triumph over evil; that individuals, releasing their latent qualities of positive energy and influence can help create a better world. In a note to me, Gil said this, “In a direct response to injury to our family, we choose to return healers to the community; this is the way you neutralize evil.” Powerful words of wisdom.