New Book on Murdered Daughter Sets Tone for Healing

Jun 16, 2017

The sentencing of a serial killer Jesse Mathew last year closed the book on the abduction and murder of 17- year old, Morgan Harrington. When the trial was over, her mother, Gil Harrington began writing a new chapter.  Her book is called, Her book is called, “Morgan Harrington: Murdered and Dead for Good.”  Robbie Harris has more.

The title speaks of painful acceptance but also of hope. Gil Harrington’s account of the search her daughter is told in journal entries, family letters, poetry and a refusal to whitewash the awful truth about what happened to her. 

"I like very clear talk and communication. I don’t like some of the verbiage around death. Because it’s not clear. You know, Morgan was not taken away on a pink cloud. Something terrible happened and to show that was not just my prerogative as a parent, it was my obligation to be the truth teller and the way shower for other young women who may be exposing themselves to risks and sexual assaults."

Harrington had been outspoken from the beginning, relentless in her efforts to keep the investigation moving forward. But after suspect, Jesse Mathew was finally charged, nearly 6 years after that agonizing search for he daughter began, Harrington took a step back.

“And then And once the trial had been completed, I really felt that I was free; finally unleashed to look at everything again and figure out what had happened and to speak my truth. You know when you’re in the midst of a criminal trial, you really are, for all intents and purposes, gagged. You must be silent because you’re concerned anything you say may impede the prosecution.”

Jane Lillian Vance, an artist, was teacher to Morgan Harrington at Virginia Tech in the last spring of her life.

“I love what Gil has pointed out that thank god not many people will have a murdered daughter but everyone will encounter grief and loss and when I’m asked, “Is this book sad?’ I say it is not." 

Vance became a supporter, a friend and co-author. She believes Harrington’s journey has changed the way we view this awful crime, putting it on the agenda, creating new pathways for communication with police, the families involved and the public.

“ I think its why we hear more about missing girls why people aren’t just carrying torches to ‘burn the monster,’when a man such as  Jessie Mathews was caught.  We are grave, we are wounded, but we aren’t villagers who’ve gone mad.”

In the book, Vance gives us an intimate look at the moments just after the judge sentence  serial killer, Jesse Mathew to life in prison without parole.  Mathew had no comment and was led away.

“ But the family rose one a time starting with his minister, uncle and they crossed that isle, you know desolate isle that separate Jesse’s family and the victims’ familiies.”

It was the minister who reached out first to take the hand of Dan Harrington, Morgan’s father. 

“And then 10 more people rose, they started to sob but the last to rise was Jesse’s mother and unlike all her other family members, she could not come all the way. She hung, she was stuck in this awful, abandoned dead river of an isle. And Gil rose in response to her predicament and slowly went over and enfolded her, as if in slow motion and they embraced each other and leaned on each other and whispered to each other, for what seemed like an eternity.”

Gil Harrington wants nothing less than for this book to literally Save The Next  Girl.  

That’s that’s the name of the nonprofit she founded after her daughter was killed.

After this book came out, she says, one of her readers told her that her daughter used to just roll at her mom’s reminders to ‘be safe out there but then the daughter read this book.

"She said, ‘I get it. I understand. I will be more careful. I will buddy up and watch myself and my friends differently as a result, from reading this.’ And I told her, Mama, thank you so much for telling me that. That’s exactly what we want to do is to change behaviors. Because, you know I had a 17 year old daughter too, who rolled her eyes, once upon a time.”  

------Gil Harrington and Jane Lillian Vance will talk about their book: June 18, 6:30 p.m., at the Blacksburg Public Library, 200 Miller Street June 26, 7 p.m., at Roanoke's South County Library,  6303 Merrimack Road The book is available  $20 on the website and the Kindle version is available on Amazon.All proceeds benefit Help Save the Next Girl.