Community Mourns Murder, Seeks Healing and Intervention

Feb 3, 2016

Gil Harrington and Help Save The Next Girl announce a new partnership with the Montgomery Co. Sheriff's Dept.
Credit Montgomery Co. Sheriff's Dept.

After a tragic event, such as the murder of a young girl, as we saw in Blacksburg last week, how does the healing happen?  For Gil Harrington, it’s come from directing the power of her grief after her own daughter was murdered, toward founding an organization that’s become a national movement. 

Gil Harrington is a former nurse whose life changed in 2009 when her daughter Morgan was murdered in Charlottesville. So she knows of what she speaks.

“Evil occurs in all places, all communities. Nice places:  Like Charlottesville, like Lovington and like Blacksburg.  Despite the fact that evil is nested in community, it is my belief that community is at the same time, the medicine.”

Speaking to a packed room at the Christiansburg Sheriff’s office, where officers had planned a community meeting to unveil a campaign to partner with the organization she co-founded, called Help Save the Next Girl.  But the room seemed transformed as she spoke about the murder of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell.

“I remind myself that God was with Nicole every single moment of her life and she is with him now. Hug your kids a little harder tonight.  Participate in your community. Know your neighbors.  Look out for one another.”

Many who were there said they decided to attend after they heard about what happened to Lovell, to be with people to mourn, but like Harrington herself, to transform their grief into action.  Rhonda Rash lives in Christiansburg, just south of Blacksburg where Lovell was from.

“Through this organization, I think we need to get involved. We need to be more observant. Even if you misinterpret a situation it’s better than if you didn’t get involved and it goes the other way.”

“We’re trying to change the culture of complacency that would walk away from this. There’s personal responsibility and then there’s responsibility of the passers by," says Harrington.

Harrington pulls out a card with a photograph taken by a student at Virginia Tech. He had been a classmate of her late daughter, Morgan Harrington.

“He was at a game and he’d been watching this girl who looked a lot like Morgan, slumped over, at the game. When he took the pictures, he said there was this ‘smile’ of people there  but even though there were thousands there, she was alone. And game over, everyone filed out and he started down towards her and his friends said don't’ do that you’re going to get her in trouble and he said, she’s already in a heck of a lot of trouble, she is alone. Reporter: Then what happened?  Harrington: He went and got the security people there to take care of her."

That photograph is on a card the organization is distributing to spread the word about bystander responsibility. On the other side of the card is a pledge young people are encouraged to sign.  Here’s what it says: