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Video: Remains ‘wanted to be found,’ parents say

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    >>> is really like.

    >>> but we begin with the latest in the search for clues into the death of college student morgan harrington , whose body was found this week, three months after her mysterious disappearance. her parents speak out in an exclusive live interview in just a moment, but first, nbc's ron mott has the latest.

    >> reporter: virginia tech student morgan harrington , young, brimming with hope and enthusiasm, was last spotted alive on this bridge, a bridge her parents dan and jill say helps connect them to the painful reality of losing their daughter.

    >> we were hoping we would find morgan alive, but at least we now have some peace and we're able to have some closure today.

    >> reporter: morgan harrington 's final journey started october 17th , on the university of virginia campus at a rock concert for one of her favorite bands, metallica. for unexplained reasons, she wound up outside the arena during the show without her ticket stub or car keys and couldn't get back in. she called friends inside, said she'd find her own way home. later, someone matching morgan 's description was spotted on the bridge possibly hitch-hiking, police suspect. months of anxious vigils passed with morgan 's parents confident she would never run away .

    >> morgan 's last words to me were "two, four, one, mama. i love you too much, forever, one more time."

    >> reporter: tuesday, fading hope gave way to tears of grief after morgan 's skeletal remains were found by a farmer seven miles away from that bridge in this remote hay field with no public access.

    >> so, i was checking the fences, and i thought i saw a dead deer, and i stopped, and it was a human skull , and that's when i called 911.

    >> and i will tell you, having seen that girl even had some lovely bones .

    >> reporter: police say morgan was probably murdered.

    >> whatever we discover from this time forward, we must be very careful, because we have perpetrator or perpetrators at large that we certainly intend to catch and to prosecute.

    >> reporter: harrington 's disappearance and death unnerved friends and fellow college students, many of whom have gone online to her facebook page, which has attracted more than 33,000 followers, as police now follow new leads in search of a likely killer on the loose. for "today," ron mott, nbc news.

    >> morgan harrington 's parents, dan and jill harrington , are with us now. good morning to you both.

    >> good morning.

    >> good morning, meredith .

    >> first may i say how sorry i am for your loss. people were praying, obviously, for a very different outcome, but both of you have said that, at least in finding your daughter, there is some sense of closure now and some sense of peace.

    >> yes.

    >> how are you holding up, dan ?

    >> i think this has been a horrific three months, and as i said on tuesday, this is not the end that we wanted, but closure's really important. there is some peace, which i think we have at this point. we're very sad, and obviously, you know, we would like our daughter to be alive, but closure's important.

    >> it has been like a wound, a huge wound, but until this point, it has been a festering wound that could not heal. you know, we still have healing to do, but it's possible, because having recovered our daughter's body gives us peace. i know no one is hurting her now, that she is beyond pain.

    >> you know, at the press conference, jill , you said something that was almost haunting to me. you referred to your daughter's lovely bones . those are the words that you used. were you thinking at that moment of the book, the film, or were you using that term in some other context?

    >> meredith , i have reviewed images of my daughter from her prenatal ultrasounds to looking at her empty eye sockets of her cranium. yes, i have seen.

    >> lovely bones .

    >> lovely bones . lovely bones . lovely girl.

    >> i know that you are waiting to find out the official cause of death , but the police have said, dan , that they believe this is a homicide. and given the fact that your daughter's remains were found in this remote field that is not easily accessible, you believe it was probably somebody local who did this, don't you?

    >> well, i've said all along that someone local did this. and typically in a situation like this, the body is usually found within five to six miles of where the person is taken, and someone has to be comfortable with knowing the area, knowing, you know, where to go, and particularly in this situation. where morgan was found, there is absolutely no way that a stranger to the area would know this. it is someone who lives in the charlottesville area.

    >> so, is it frightening to both of you to think that whoever that person is, they're still out there?

    >> i think it's -- to me, it's frightening in that the community needs to be, i think, aware that there is a perpetrator out there who needs to be caught. and i think that people need to be aware that, you know, this may not happen tomorrow, but a murder did occur. our daughter was taken and a murder has occurred. and you can't ignore that. i think that's important for the people in any community where this occurs.

    >> you know, jill , your daughter -- go ahead, i'm sorry.

    >> dan wants justice and punishment of this man. i really cared little about either one of those things. i know he will receive the punishment that he is due at some point, but i do -- i'm concerned and determined that he be caught for safety reasons because this was not the first bad thing that this man did. the abduction and murder is not your entry level into a life of crime . he's done bad things before. he's upped his game and he's likely to do something bad again unless we catch him.

    >> and i know you also care very deeply about your daughter's legacy. you have been to visit members of congress in washington, d.c..

    >> yes.

    >> what do you hope to accomplish?

    >> well, i think it's important to point out, our trip to washington just last week was to meet with senators around the country, particularly the senators from virginia for the center for missing adults. this is a center that has absolutely no federal funding versus the funding that occurs for children. and we are a prime example of the pain and the difficulty that families have after someone goes missing. there is no template. law enforcement , communities, parents don't know what to do. and the national center for missing adults has been the only center to help people nationally. and so, we were there to advocate for federal funding for the center, of which federal funding ran out in 2007 . so, in that sense, we no longer have a missing daughter, but we want morgan 's life to be honored and we want her death to not be just another person dying. we want something to happen good for morgan 's life.

    >> dan and jill harrington , we would want the same as well. our thoughts and prayers, again, are with you both. thank you.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> thank you, meredith .

    >> we appreciate it.

    >> and if you have any information in the case, please contact the virginia state police at 434-352-3467.

    >>> now let's get a check

By
TODAY contributor
updated 1/29/2010 9:15:17 AM ET 2010-01-29T14:15:17

Someone abducted and murdered her 20-year-old daughter, police believe, but Gil Harrington doesn’t really care about punishing the perpetrator. She just wants a killer taken off the streets before he can cause another parent the pain she has felt.

“I am concerned and determined that he be caught for safety reasons, because this was not the first bad thing that this man did. Abduction and murder is not your entry level into a life of crime,” Harrington told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Friday via satellite from her home in Roanoke, Va. “He’s done bad things before. He’s upped his game, and he’s likely to do something bad again unless we catch him.”

‘Horrific three months’
Gil and her husband, Dan Harrington, were speaking out three days after the skeletal remains of their daughter, Morgan, were discovered in a pasture some 10 miles from Charlottesville, Va. Three months earlier, on Oct. 17, 2009, Morgan had gone to Charlottesville with friends to attend a Metallica concert.

Somehow, she got separated from the rest of her group and found herself outside the arena during the concert without her ticket or car keys. Unable to get back in, she called her friends and told them not to worry about her; she’d find her own way home.

When Morgan did not return home by the next morning, her parents called police. But in three months of investigation, the best they could do is put a hitchhiker meeting Morgan Harrington’s description on a bridge seven miles from where her body was finally found.

“This has been a horrific three months,” Dan Harrington said. “This is not the end that we wanted, but closure is really important. There is some peace, but we’re very sad. Obviously, we would like our daughter to be alive.”

‘Lovely bones, lovely girl’
For Gil Harrington, the discovery means an end to the waking nightmares she had lived with, imagining that her daughter might be alive and suffering unspeakable horror at the hands of her abductor. Police believe now that Morgan Harrington died not long after she went missing.

TODAY
For Dan and Gil Harrington, the discovery of their daughter Morgan’s remains has brought “some peace, but we’re very sad,” Dan said.
“It has been like a wound, a huge wound, but until this point it had been a festering wound that could not heal,” Gil told Vieira. “We still have healing to do, but it’s possible because having recovered our daughter’s body gives us peace. I know that no one is hurting her now; she’s beyond pain.”

The Harringtons were able to view the remains, which Gil described as “lovely bones” — a reference to the best-selling book by Alice Sebold about a murdered 14-year-old girl. The book has been made into a movie.

“I have reviewed images of my daughter from her prenatal ultrasounds to looking at her empty eye sockets of her cranium,” Gil said calmly. “Yes, I have seen lovely bones. Lovely girl.”

Killer at large
The pasture where the body was found is in a remote part of a farm that is not easy to get to by car. The location makes the Harringtons believe that someone local who was familiar with the area committed the crime. And that person is still at large.

TODAY
Police have confirmed that the remains discovered in a remote area of farmland on Jan. 27 are those of Morgan Harrington.
“I’ve said all along that someone local did this,” Dan Harrington said. “Someone has to be comfortable with knowing the area, knowing where to go. Particularly in this situation, where Morgan was found — there’s absolutely no way that a stranger to the area would know this. It is someone who lives in the Charlottesville area. To me, it’s frightening in the sense the community needs to be aware that there’s a perpetrator out there who needs to be caught.”

“Dan wants justice and punishment of this man. I really care little about either one of those things. I know he will receive the punishment that he is due, at some point. I am concerned and determined that he be caught for safety reasons,” added Gil. Video: Missing coed’s parents: our ‘worst nightmare’

The Harringtons were uncommonly close to their daughter, who had spent the day leading up to the concert with her mother deciding what to wear and what makeup to use. The next day, the college student had planned to study math with her father.

Finding meaning in tragedy
When Morgan went missing, her parents discovered that while there are great resources to support the families of missing children in this country, there is almost nothing to help the families of missing adults. The only resource is the National Center for Missing Adults, which lost its federal funding in 2007, Dan Harrington said.

“We are a prime example of the pain and the difficulty that families have after someone goes missing. There’s no template,” he told Vieira. “Law enforcement, communities, parents don’t know what to do.”

TODAY
The Harringtons hope that Morgan’s death will spur increased resources for the families of missing adults.
The Harringtons recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with their senators from Virginia and other lawmakers to lobby for funding for the center and increased resources for families like themselves.

“We no longer have a missing daughter, but we want Morgan’s life to be honored and we want her death to not be just another person dying,” Dan Harrington told Vieira. “We want something good to happen for Morgan’s life.”

If you have information for police about what happened to Morgan Harrington, please call 434-352-3467.

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