Investigator: Harrington case not ‘cold’

State Police still pursuing leads; ‘We have to keep plugging away’

Story by Chris Graham

The case of missing Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who hasn’t been seen since she left a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville the night of Oct. 17, is “not anywhere near” the level of being labeled a cold case, a Virginia State Police investigator said today.

“A cold case is when you’re not actively pursuing a case, you’ve exhausted all your leads, you’re not putting a whole lot of effort into it. This isn’t anywhere near that. We’ve been working on this every day since we started with core investigators as well as other resources. It’s very much active,” State Police Lt. Joe Rader said on the Harrington case, which has gone cold in one respect, as the media attention on Harrington has gone into decline after an initial period of several weeks of intense coverage of the investigation.

New leads and tips have also slowed, Rader said, with the activity in that arena in recent days being from psychics and remote viewers, “not really people who were there who have concrete information,” Rader said.

What is new is a tightened time frame of interest to State Police investigators, who have narrowed down the time that Harrington seems to have gone missing to a 10-minute window between 9:20 and 9:30 the night of Oct. 17.

“We believe that’s the window when there’s a good chance that she may have gotten into a car on the Copeley Road bridge. We don’t know that, but based on what we’ve done, that seems to be the time frame where something happened, and we can’t account for her after that. She was seen hitchhiking, and then we figure that she got into a car,” Rader said.

It is also now believed that Harrington, 20, a junior at Virginia Tech from the Roanoke area, had been drinking alcohol the night of her disappearance.

Investigators are interested in a red digital Kodak camera owned by Harrington that they have not been able to locate, Rader said.

“Obviously something like a camera could hold information on it that could be valuable to the investigation,” Rader said.

It’s all still speculation now, but investigators believe what happened the night of the disappearance can fall into one of three possible scenarios.

“The first one is, a person wanted to give her a ride, they give her a ride, and something happens. Now the person doesn’t know what to do, so they either let her out somewhere, or dump her somewhere,” Rader said.

That person “could have had the most innocent intentions,” Rader said, “but for whatever reason, something went bad, and now you’re scared to come forward, because you’re scared of the implications. Don’t be scared. Come forward. Talk to us. If you’re out there, and you know something, don’t be scared. We need to talk to you,” Rader said.

The second scenario – “You had a person who had criminal intent from the outset, saw a vulnerable target, and took advantage. They’re obviously not going to come to us,” Rader said.

“The third is something we’re hearing from some people about how she wanted to meet up with someone and not be found. There’s absolutely no indication to that at this point,” Rader said.

All that said, “We’re pursuing this as if she’s still alive,” Rader said. “You’ve got to be careful about pursuing it as if she is dead, because that can narrow the level of objectivity of what you’re doing. If I don’t think she has a chance of being alive, and you tell me, I saw her at the Fashion Square Mall today, chances are I’m not going to take that very seriously.”

Rader thinks the missing link of information leading to the case being cracked will be found in the Charlottesville area.

He also hopes against hope that there’s a happy ending to this story.

“I hope the Harrington family still gets to experience the greatest moment of their life. I know statistically it doesn’t look very good, but we have to keep plugging away,” Rader said.


Investigators are still encouraging anyone with information in this case to come forward and contact either Virginia State Police at 434.352.3467 or; UVa. Police at 434.924.7166; or the Jefferson Area Crime Stoppers at 434.977.4000.

A $150,000 reward is still available for information that leads to the location and recovery of Morgan Harrington. If anyone out there picked up Morgan, but is fearful to come forward because of possible implications, such person(s) is still encouraged to come forward and contact police. Investigators are willing to work with you in order to locate Morgan and bring her home to her family.

In addition, anyone who has noticed any behavioral changes in a loved one, coworker or friend who may have attended that Metallica concert – or acts strangely (overly interested, shies away, etc.) when the Morgan’s disappearance is mentioned in the news or discussed among people – is also encouraged to also contact police at any of the numbers/email provided above. Anonymous tips are welcome.


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