One week after roughly 500 people gathered to mourn the death of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington at a memorial service in Roanoke, Gil Harrington says that her family is more focused on the artifacts of her daughter’s life rather than factors that many say contributed to Morgan’s disappearance.
“I think the only blame to be drawn, the finger to be pointed, is at the man who murdered my daughter,” said Harrington, reached yesterday at her family’s home. “These others are sidebars that detract away from where attention needs to be focused, and where energy needs to be spent.” Asked whether the Harrington family held John Paul Jones Arena accountable or planned to seek legal action against the venue that denied Morgan re-entry on the night of the Metallica concert, she said no.
“We all can play a better game and, in retrospect, change procedures and actions,” said Harrington. “But it’s just like with Morgan’s friends, it’s just like with officials—everyone was doing the best they could at the time.”
A gathering that followed Harrington’s memorial service featured tokens from Morgan’s life, from the pink knit hat placed on her head after she was born to the red dress she wore to her high school prom. But plenty more fill the family’s home, and Gil Harrington describes the family’s time since the discovery of her daughter’s remains as “shot through with Morgan.”
“I cook broccoli for dinner and it pulls me up short because I know Morgan likes margarine on it, not butter, like the rest of the family does,” said Harrington.
“Although there’s more sadness to this, I tell myself it’s not different than many ceremonies, high school graduations or college graduations or marriages,” Gil Harrington told C-VILLE after her daughter’s recent memorial service. “All of them involve a letting go of something, and they are always underpinned with some sadness.”
The family also has plans for an object particularly special to Gil Harrington and her daughter: a teak cigar box, one of several collected by Gil’s father during his work as a diplomatic courier.
“Morgan and I use them to put our jewelry in,” said Harrington, who shared the same information with a funeral director and family friend. “And I said, ‘I think we want to put Morgan’s ashes in the cigar box.’"
Harrington says that her son, Alex, recently looked through family photos and found a snapshot of Morgan as “a tiny baby,” playing with the cigar box.
“I never thought she’d be in it,” said Harrington. “But she was playing with my jewelry that was in the cigar box.”
Yet for each item the Harringtons confront and reevaluate in light of Morgan’s death, Gil Harrington says that there is no consensus on what justice means to the family at this point.
“My husband feels differently about this than I do. He wants justice and punishment [for the person responsible],” said Harrington. “I feel that punishment will be delivered, whether it’s done here or not. But I definitely want this person off the street for safety.”
“I think that’s typical father’s protective thing,” added Harrington. “If someone hurt your baby, you want them taken out. I don’t have that same visceral response.”
During a recent press conference, Virginia State Police unveiled a new phone line for sharing tips specifically addressing the areas of North Garden or Anchorage Farm. State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said via e-mail that, at press time, the tip line had received roughly 60 calls.
“Several have been helpful in the course of our investigation, which is still very active—even despite all the snow,” wrote Geller.
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