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Morgan Harrington loved rock concerts, art, and children.
The 20 year old junior at Virginia Tech was studying to be a teacher, but somehow always found time to help others. I learned these things about her in the days after she went missing as I covered stories on her.
Morgan volunteered at a Roanoke center that helps children who have been through trauma. The children there loved her, the director told me, and lit up when they saw her walk in with her long blonde hair and her beaming smile. They loved to have "Miss Morgan" braid their hair just like hers.
Morgan Harrington also helped her mother pack up "birthing kits" for women in Zambia, Africa. The plastic bags were filled with a bar of soap, a plastic sheet and a few other minimal essentials that women there desperately needed. She hoped to one day go with her mother on a mission trip when she got a little bit older. A wing of a school there is now dedicated in her name.
Morgan Harrington was at her parents home before heading to Charlottesville for the Metallica concert. She was supposed to be back in Roanoke County at her parent's home on Sunday October 18th. Her father, Dan Harrington, was going to hep her study for a test.
On the first day I met the Harringtons at their Roanoke County home they showed me Morgan's room. Her suitcase lay on the floor with clothes tossed about and textbooks were also strewn on the floor. It looked like a typical college student was home for a very typical visit home.
It was also a very girly room with reminders of a young Morgan. A stuffed animal Morgan loved as a child still sat perched on her bed.
Morgan loved makeup and jewelry and clothes her mom told me.
I also remember the day Dan Harrington called me in the newsroom to tell me he and Gil were headed to Charlottesville. I asked him why. His voice broke and I knew immediately what he was going to say. After I hung up I went to my desk in the very empty newsroom and cried. I can't imagine what they were feeling.
Someone at the gym recently asked me how we as reporters keep it together while reporting all of these horrible things. The reality is we don't always keep it together. We must keep a strong face on the air, but when you meet a family and talk to parents face to face about their missing child, there is no way you can't hurt for them and be unaffected as a human being. You just can't.
We are after all members of the same community.
As a reporter I am reporting the facts in the ongoing criminal case, but it also brings back all of the stories I learned about Morgan Harrington over the years.
I'm glad I've had the chance to meet Dan and Gil Harrington. They are such strong people and so very nice. I've seen them over the past five years not just on news stories, but at community functions and even at the grocery store.
They've worked tirelessly over the years to keep their daughter's story alive and keep her picture in the news. They formed Help Save the Next Girl to help keep young women safe.
Today I could see the exhaustion and the grief in their eyes more than ever. I know they're relieved at the news but it doesn't bring their daughter back.
I almost wish I didn't have to ask them to comment on camera. My voice broke as I talked to them. I tried to keep my questions brief and let them be. As I left people from network news outlets were ringing their doorbell. I thank them for being so gracious to me and other reporters over the years.
I wish I had the chance to meet Morgan Harrington. In a way I feel like I somehow knew her. My heart goes out to the Harringtons, the Grahams and any other people in this community who have lost a loved one in such a horrible way.