ROANOKE – A young woman's legacy lives on through her passion for education. It's been 10 years since the disappearance and murder of Morgan Harrington. Thursday, she's being honored at the seventh annual Doc's for Morgan basketball tournament.
Morgan was studying at Virginia Tech to become a teacher. The summer before her senior year she worked at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. As a way to honor her memory, the Morgan Dana Harrington scholarship fund was established by Carilion the day her body was found in 2010. The basketball challenge raises money for the scholarship that will help put a future doctor through medical school.
Harrington's name and story are not forgotten in southwest Virginia.
Although her parents Dan and Gil wonder 10 years later what their daughter's life would have been like, they have made sure her story lives on past her death.
"I would have loved to see how she turned out. She was such fine stuff,” Gil Harrington said. "We really wanted to figure out a way to not have this tragedy sort of hurt us in more ways. So this was our response to evil, and how do we heal ourselves."
The Harringtons say that part of healing is fulfilling what Morgan could have been to the world.
"Helping other people has really helped us," Dan Harrington said. "Starting the scholarship helps us help other students. The students who are becoming doctors have incredible medical debt. And so the scholarship which has so far raised about $400,000 dollars give some opportunity to help reduce that debt."
In grief, the Harringtons have found a new path forward.
“Part of our calling to do things like this basketball game it is to create legacy for Morgan, but it's also because part of the loss, is the loss that the world, the community will have because of the potential of Morgan will never be realized,” Gil Harrington said. "We not only have survived the worst tragedy can, but what we have over time come to a place where we can give back. We have healed enough to where we can give back, to where we can fully participate in the joy."
In addition to the scholarship, an educational wing in Zambia, Africa is now named for Morgan. Gil visits the school as often as she can, and gives triage to trauma victims in neighboring villages. She said seeing the hundreds of impoverished children who now go to that school named for her daughter gives her hope, inspiration and healing. She often finds signs she refers to as Godwinks that remind her of Morgan when she visits. She showed 10 News a picture of a female Spiderman with the name “Morgan” written below the childlike drawing. Another woman she treated was wearing a shirt with the name Morgan written across the collar.
"She would be amazed,” Gil said. “The truth of it is more children than Morgan would have ever taught are being educated in her honor in Africa."
Gil now operates the national headquarters of Help Save the Next Girl from her Roanoke basement. Nationally known, the organization has opened a door and a conversation to prevent another tragedy like Morgan's.
"It's an issue of our time,” Gil said. In the past decade, dozens of collegiate and high school chapters with hundreds of young members have opened across the country, discussing personal safety.
"I know that we have saved lives,” Gil said. While the life of their daughter will never be replaced, Gil and Dan have turned a tragedy into something beautiful.
"We have lost so much, we lost so much, but we have been blessed in equal measure. But you have to be willing to accept the blessings that come to you instead of tip them out because you want what you had,” Gil said while Dan nodded in agreement.
What they have been able to create is a blessing they’ve chosen to accept and give back to the world. Both Dan and Gil said they hope to give back to the community that has given them so much.
"It's nice to return some of the love back to the community that loved us into wellness,” Gil said.
When asked what Morgan would say about everything her parents have accomplished since she’s gone, the Harringtons said she would be flabbergasted.
“I really think she would be astounded. We are kind of astounded when we look to see what we have cobbled together bit by bit over the last decade,” Gil said.
“And in some ways, you are still coming today, we are years out and the story still resonates with people,” Dan said.
Morgan’s story remains unfolding, even after death.
To donate to the Morgan Dana Harrington scholarship, visit medicine.vtc.vt.edu/giving.