On October 17, 2009, 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington went missing while attending a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia. 3 moths later, her body was discovered in rural farmland.
Police arrested one of their prime suspects, Jesse L. Matthew Jr., for the crime. He was also believed to have killed another young woman, Hannah Graham. On March 2, 2016, Matthew plead guilty to the abduction and murder of both women, and received 4 life sentences with no possibility of parole.
MORGAN'S DISAPPEARANCE AND MURDER
Morgan Dana Harrington is remembered by loved ones as a beautiful and loving girl, "a true original". She brought joy to everyone around her for the 20 years she was given on earth.
On October 17, 2009, Morgan and her friends were excited for the Metallica concert they were going to later that night. They drove to the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville for the show. Morgan went to the restroom during the opening act's performance. She never came back.
At first, they called Morgan. She answered at 8:48 pm, and she said she had been locked out of the arena due to the venue's no re-entry policy. She said she would find a way home and told her friends not to worry.
Witnesses claim Morgan was spotted hitchhiking on a nearby bridge. Other witnesses claimed to have seen her with 3 men after she left the venue.
After Morgan was determined to be missing, her purse, including her ID and cell phone (with no batteries), was found in the RV lot at the University of Virginia's Lannigan Athletic Field. Her remains wouldn't be found for another 3 months, on January 26, 2010. Her remains were found 10 miles away from the arena on rural farmland.
Though the police did not immediately release any information about her death, her parents confirmed that many of her bones were broken and she likely died a very violent death. Her mother, Gil, confirmed that her daughter had been raped.
Unfortunately, police were not able to determine any suspects in the case, and it quickly began to go cold without any leads.
HANNAH'S DISAPPEARANCE AND MURDER
On September 13, 2014, a British American student at UVA, 18-year-old Hannah Graham, went missing. She texted her friends at about 1:20 am and told them she was on her way to a party, but was lost. She did arrive at a party, and stayed awhile before she disappeared.
Surveillance footage showed Hannah in one of her last moments at Tempo Restaurant with one Jesse Leeroy "LJ" Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old man. He was seen with his arm around her, while she looked clearly drunk. Witnesses said that he "did not look friendly". When Hannah was standing by a vehicle, later confirmed to be Matthew's, she was heard saying "I'm not getting in that car with you!" But somehow, she did.
On October 18, almost exactly 5 years to the day since Morgan was taken, Hannah's remains were found on an abandoned property in Albemarle County, Virginia. The cause of death was determined, but was withheld from the public.
THE KILLER GETS CAUGHT
Jesse Matthew Jr. did not have a great history. He had been accused of sexual assault twice in his past at 2 separate schools, Liberty University in Lynchburg and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, but he left after each allegation, and criminal charges were never brought against him.
On September 19, police identified him as a person of interest due to the footage of him with Hannah. The police concluded that somehow, some way, Hannah got into the car with him. They searched his car and apartment, but declined to arrest him right away.
Then, on September 21, police issued a warrant for Matthew's arrest for reckless driving. Within the next 2 days, he was charged with abduction with intent to defile.
About a week later, it was reported that the forensics taken from the investigation were matched to the 2009 murder of Morgan Harrington. Hannah's remains were found only about 5 miles away from where Morgan's were found. 5 years later, they had finally found the guy who killed Morgan. And unfortunately, it took another murder to catch him.
Matthew was formally charged with first degree murder and abduction on September 15, 2015, for the murder and kidnapping of Morgan, on top of the charges brought against him for Hannah's murder. He plead guilty to the crimes. He is currently serving a variety of life terms.
The forensics in Hannah's case also matched an attempted murder, rape, and abduction with intent to defile from an incident back in September of 2005 in Fairfax, Virginia. He plead not guilty to the charges on November 14, 2014, but then submitted an Alford plea in June of the following year. He was convicted on all charges, and sentenced to 3 additional life sentences (on top of his 4) for the Fairfax case.
Morgan's abduction gained widespread media attention. The slaying provoked fears that a serial killer was living in Virginia. Also, as Morgan was a college student, it certainly terrified parents that their children who they had just sent off to college a few months prior could be in danger.
Crimestoppers offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Morgan's killer, and Metallica added an additional $50,000 to the reward, as she had gone missing at their concert.
Morgan's parents appeared at a variety of special on-campus events, urging college campuses to work toward a safer space for all of their students to ensure nothing like this would happen again.
On May 21, 2019, Matthew was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, and was transferred to a new prison for cancer treatment.
Her parents have honored her memory in many ways. They built the Morgan Harrington Educational Wing in a school in Africa to bring education to children who otherwise might not get it, and they have created a scholarship in Morgan's name for a medical student to help train the next generation of doctors, and they've created the Help Save The Next Girl program to educate women and men to be aware of predators.
In a statement read before the court at Matthew's sentencing, Morgan's father remembered his beautiful, smart, and talented daughter. "Morgan loved and was loved, she laughed, she danced, she was the world's best hugger, and she was so alive."
Like Morgan's family, Hannah's loved ones have tried to make some semblance of positivity out of the loss. They have held the Hannah Graham Memorial Softball Tournament for 5 years in a row to raise money for charity. Her parents say that the fact that people are more careful and aware of their surroundings now because of Hannah makes her "grateful".
This case is so sad on all fronts. But more than anything, it is enraging. Matthew was accused of sexual assault twice at different colleges. He was a serial predator. And yet, he was out walking the streets, essentially just choosing which victim he would take next. I understand that charges must be pressed, and women who were sexually assaulted in college may not wish to come forward, but the fact that people knew he was a predator and he was still able to assault and kill 2 women is disgusting.
I am heartbroken that someone else had to die in order to bring Morgan's family closure. It is crazy how that news affected 2 families so differently. For Hannah, they had just found out their daughter had been murdered. Quickly, their daughter went from alive and well to missing to dead to a suspect in custody. A complete and total whirlwind. For Morgan's family, it had been 5 years. They were beginning to understand how to live each day without their Morgan in their lives. The news that a suspect was caught was about the only good news they could receive. But I'm sure it broke their hearts that they found relief in the news, knowing it meant another woman had her life taken. That another family was about to begin enduring the hell they were starting to climb out of.
RIP to 2 beautiful young women with bright futures ahead of them that were stripped away. I hope they look down with contentment about the wonderful things their families and friends have been able to do in the wake of their tragic losses.