Morgan Harrington’s parents were struck by the similarities as soon as they heard University of Virginia student Hannah Graham went missing.
Their daughter, a Virginia Tech student, had disappeared five years earlier at the same time of year, around the same time of night and in the same place — Charlottesville, Virginia.
But even as speculation surged that the two cases could be connected, the Harringtons were still waiting for answers. Until now.
Prosecutors revealed Tuesday that a grand jury has indicted Jesse Matthew Jr. — the same suspect who’s charged with capital murder in the Graham case — in Harrington’s death, too.
The grand jury charged Matthew with first-degree murder and abduction with the intent to defile in the case of Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student who went missing in October 2009.
After investigators said they believed he was the last person to see Graham before she went missing, Matthew, a former cab driver, was taken into custody nearly a year ago on a beach in Galveston County, Texas, about 1,300 miles away from Charlottesville.
The Albermarle County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office announced the new charges against him in a statement Tuesday. He is set to appear in court to face the charges in the Harrington case on Wednesday, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors didn’t detail what evidence led them to pursue charges in the Harrington case, and said in a statement that to ensure a fair trial they would not be holding a press conference or comment on the evidence, the penalty they’re seeking or their trial strategy.
Matthew’s public defender did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment.
Harrington disappeared on October 17, 2009, after attending a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena.
She had been so excited about the concert, according to her mother, that she posted the tickets on the refrigerator about six months ahead of time. She tried on three outfits before settling on what to wear: a crystal necklace and a black T-shirt with the word “Pantera” spelled out in tan letters.
Police say she left her friends to use the restroom during the concert. They called her cell phone when she didn’t return.
Harrington told them she was outside the arena and could not get back in because of its reentry policy. But she also said they shouldn’t worry and that she would find a ride home.
Witnesses later saw someone matching Harrington’s description walking along a nearby bridge. Harrington’s purse, identification and cell phone were found the following day in an overflow parking lot near the arena.
Her remains were discovered on a nearby farm in January 2010.
Searching for closure
Last year, Harrington’s mother told CNN affiliate WSLS that she was happy investigators had found a possible link between Graham’s case and her daughter’s killing.
“But it doesn’t change a lot for us, in some ways,” she said. “You know, our bedroom is still empty upstairs. We’re still not going to have the grandchildren, the wedding, those things.”
After their daughter’s disappearance, the Harringtons formed Help Save the Next Girl, aimed at disseminating information about missing persons and supporting victims’ families.
Working to help others, Gil Harrington said, gives them strength to move forward.
“You don’t get over it,” she said. “But I do believe you get passed it.”