ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) -
The family of Morgan Harrington begins a new chapter to honor their daughter's memory. Five years ago police announced remains found on an Albemarle County farm were that of the missing Virginia Tech student. That announcement ended three months of searching for 20-year-old Morgan, and started five years of searching for a murder suspect.
Morgan left her parents' Roanoke home October 17, 2009, heading with friends to a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. She vanished from a nearby bridge, abducted into the night. The search would end January 26, 2010 when an Albemarle Co. farmer discovered Morgan's remains in a pasture.
The public mourning is over for Morgan's family. Now, the Harringtons are focusing on getting justice for her and the man who they believe killed Morgan.
Jesse Matthew, who police connect by DNA to Morgan's case, is behind bars for last fall's abduction of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. He's also facing a trial in Fairfax in March in connection with a 2005 rape and attempted murder there. Morgan's mother, Gil, is confident Matthew is her daughter's killer.
While no one has been charged in the death of Morgan, her family and their Help Save The Next Girl supporters are confident this is their year for justice. With the man the Harrington's believe killed her behind bars, they have a new focus.
Gil Harrington calls herself a bystander in the justice phase for her daughter. It's out of her hands and up to the Albemarle Co. commonwealth's attorney to build a case and file charges. Until then, the Harringtons and their HSTNG nonprofit organization are forming "Team Justice".
Gil leads a network of volunteers from her home, the basement headquarters for HSTNG.
"They are all our precious children. You don't draw the line that mine only I want to save. It's too late for Morgan, let's save the next one," Harrington stated.
Amanda St. Clair felt drawn to the Harringtons in the days after Morgan's disappearance. The mother of a college-aged daughter has helped the organization grow from five chapters on college and high school campuses to 20.
"They talk about stranger danger with the kids when they're little, but when you get to a certain point in school, it's kind of forgotten about," she stated.
Help Save The Next Girl reaches worldwide on social media, designing fliers with faces of the missing, creating personal safety curriculum for classrooms, and even lobbying lawmakers to change how Virginia mobilizes resources to search for missing persons. St. Clair says their message is their product, but that message is morphing.
"2015 is the year of justice. This will be the spring of justice," said Jane Lillian Vance, Morgan's art teacher
Morgan's memory blooms in a colorful Blacksburg home of her art teacher at Virginia Tech. Vance welcomed Morgan's class into her home the semester before her murder. A sketch brought the artist and the anguished mother together in the year after Morgan's murder.
"I said, you don't know me, I taught your daughter. I loved her, I saw her, I have something that belongs to you," said Vance. "We spoke the same language of loyalty, and Help Save The Next Girl was in my veins before Gil invented the words for it."
That bond allowed Vance to complete two paintings for the Harringtons. One, "The Hunted," depicts the field where her body was found. The other is a portrait that shows the sparkle in her eyes. Blended in the brush strokes of each are Morgan's cremated remains.
Vance's studio is the starting point for all new Help Save The Next Girl chapters.
"This is the crew. We are for Help Save The Next Girl. It's the deepest kind of commitment you can have," stated Vance.
Ian Heflin lives that commitment after meeting Morgan in Vance's class.
"Every day Morgan is part of my life," he stated. "You don't expect those people to change your life that you sit in class with, but so many of them have. Especially Morgan."
Heflin is coordinating the "Team Justice" phase for HSTNG.
"Morgan died so young, but she was so open to the world, and now the rest of the world is opening up to, that's justice."
The team emerges from the sense of relief that the man they suspect killed Morgan is behind bars.
"Justice means this person will not hurt anyone else," Harrington said.
Limited edition T-shirts with the logos of all 20 Help Save The Next Girl chapters are on sale to support its mission of personal safety awareness and advocacy for missing people. The T-shirts went on sale at 10:15 Monday morning, the exact time five years ago that police called the Harrington's to tell them their daughter's body was found. Click here to purchase a shirt.
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