Breaking News Emails
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Gil Harrington can relate to the horror of frantically searching for a college-aged daughter. Five years ago, Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington vanished from a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia, and her body wasn’t found for three months.
On Saturday, Harrington remained a vocal supporter in the growing search for another missing student— 18-year-old Hannah Graham — whose bizarre disappearance a week ago has rattled the college town, all too familiar with cases of missing women.
"It's the little bit I can do to try to save the next girl," said Harrington, who helped to rally volunteer searchers Friday night at the same arena where her daughter was last seen. Police have not found Morgan Harrington's murderer.
Breaking News Emails
Harrington said she empathizes with Graham's parents, John and Sue Graham, who on Wednesday said in a statement, "We will not rest until we find her and she comes home."
"It's a debilitating and emotional process," Harrington told NBC News. "For us, Morgan missing was worse than knowing she was dead because there are rituals for death. People know what to do. There is no hallmark card for 'missing.'"
Morgan Harrington and Graham are two of five girls who have disappeared in the area within the last five years.
DaShad Laquinn Smith, 19, also disappeared from Charlottesville in 2012. Nineteen-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke vanished from Orange County in 2010, and 17-year-old Alexis Murphy disappeared from Shipman in 2012. Both went missing less than 50 miles from Charlottesville, and none of the three girls' bodies have been found, according to The Associated Press.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo told NBC News on Saturday that he doesn't have any "factual information" that suggests the five cases are connected. But that hasn't left the community any less shaken.
Amanda St.Clair, a volunteer who created a Facebook page when Harrington went missing and did the same earlier this week for Graham, said residents become more "traumatized" with every disappearance. "There's a problem here," St.Clair told NBC News. "They just disappeared into thin air."
Diana Salmon, a Charlottesville resident who helps run the Facebook page, said the 1,000 volunteers came out in droves on Saturday because "they are tired of having this sort of thing happening here."
"Hannah Graham's disappearance has brought back so many bad memories" from the Harrington case, Salmon told NBC News. Memories of the other missing girls have painfully surfaced as well.
"This was us this time last year,” Angela Taylor, Alexis Murphy's aunt, told NBC affiliate WVIR during the search effort for Graham on Saturday. "There are just no words to really describe, you know, what they're going through, and my heart just aches for Hannah and her family."
And others in the community who have not experienced the same trauma of the missing girls' families couldn't help but imagine being in such a similar and horrifying situation.
"This could very well be my daughter," said volunteer Pam Graves, whose daughter, like Graham, is a second-year college student. "I’d want everyone in the world to come and help me to come and find my daughter in this process," she added. "I need to do the same in return for my community."
Graham went missing in the early morning hours of Sept. 13 after leaving an off-campus party, according to Charlottesville police. A person of interest who was seen with Graham at a restaurant was found, but he has not been arrested or questioned, police said. Search warrants were served for his car and apartment on Friday.
"There is no hallmark card for missing."
Jonathan Jay, a U.Va. student who also joined the search effort on Saturday, said the mood on campus has been somber all week. "Everyone’s affected in one way or another," Jay said. "We want to bring Hannah home more than anything else."
Tracy Jarrett reported from Charlottesville, and Elisha Fieldstadt reported from New York.