Social media campaign aims to catch Morgan Harrington’s killer

Posted at 1:48 PM, Jun 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-13 23:32:50-04

Sketch from FBI’s “Help Us Catch a Killer” website. (FBI: Unknown Offender Linked by DNA in Two Separate Cases)

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - A new interactive campaign recently launched by the FBI hopes to bring in new leads and potentially catch Morgan Harrington's killer.

The Virginia Tech student was found murdered in 2009. She was last spotted on a bridge, trying to hitchhike after an October Metallica concert in Charlottesville.

Since her skeletal remains were discovered in 2010, relatively few leads have come in and Harrington's killer remains at large. However, law enforcement agencies did discover that DNA from a 2005 Fairfax, Virginia sexual assault matched that of Harrington's killer.

As a result, the 2005 victim's description of her attacker led to a sketch of the suspect. The two composites shows the suspect with and without facial hair.

Those sketches will be featured on billboards in 23 states up and down the East Coast. The billboards will also be used in Richmond, Roanoke and Washington, D.C.

The FBI's digital media campaign also includes a website called "Help Us Catch a Killer," along with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube posts and radio spots. [BONUS: Click here to visit the FBI's website on Harrington]

Another element of the campaign includes a a public service announcement (PSA) from James Hetfield, Metallica's lead-guitarist.

The band is also contributing a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Harrington's killer or killers. The Jefferson Area Crime Stoppers is also offering a $100,000 reward.

If you have any information that could help investigators, call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the Virginia State Police Tip line at 434-352-3467.

Here's the complete news release from the FBI:

Today, federal, state and local law enforcement launched a multi-media campaign that includes two enhanced composite sketches of a suspect in the 2009 murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington. The unknown murder suspect is also connected by DNA to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax City, Va.

Authorities recently enhanced the composite sketch created in 2005 from a description by the sexual assault victim. One of the composites shows the suspect with facial hair, as the suspect was described at the time of the attack. The second composite sketch features him without facial hair.

The two attacks were connected through DNA after a forensic profile was submitted by the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to the FBI’s national DNA database. The search found that the suspect in the Harrington murder investigation matched the DNA profile of the attacker in Fairfax City.

The multi-media campaign includes a public service announcement by Metallica lead-guitarist James Hetfield appealing to the public to come forward with information concerning the Morgan Harrington investigation. The composite sketches of the suspect are being featured on bus shelters in Washington, D.C., as well as on digital billboards in Richmond, Roanoke, Washington, D.C., and 23 other states along the East Coast.

Social media outreach and alerts via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube along with a web site dedicated to the Harrington case were also launched Wednesday. Podcasts are now available on iTunes and radio spots are airing to further raise awareness of the ongoing investigation. The multi-pronged effort is designed to develop new leads and renew the public’s attention to the attacks. The campaign implements similar techniques that have led to the arrests in cases including the East Coast Rapist as well as Ten Most Wanted fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger.

The Jefferson Area Crime Stoppers is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Morgan Harrington's murder. In addition, the band Metallica is offering an additional $50,000 to the reward, for a total of $150,000.

Morgan Harrington Murder

On the evening of Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009, Harrington attended a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena on the University of Virginia (UVA) campus in Charlottesville, Va. At approximately 8:30 p.m., she left the arena and was unable to re-enter the facility. She was last seen hitchhiking for a ride from passing traffic.

Harrington was dressed that night in a black T-shirt with the word “Pantera” spelled out in tan letters and was wearing a distinctive Swarovski Crystal necklace made of large crystal chain links, which investigators have yet to recover. Harrington’s “Pantera” T-shirt was found on Nov. 11, 2009, in front of a row of apartments along 15th Street, NW, near Grady Avenue in Charlottesville. Harrington’s skeletal remains were later discovered on Jan. 26, 2010, in a remote field on an Albemarle County, Va., farm along Route 29. A camera that Harrington had in her possession that night has never been recovered.

Sexual Assault in Fairfax City, Va.

On the evening of Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005, a 26 year-old victim was walking home from the Giant Food Store located on the 3700 block of Jermantown Road in Fairfax City, Va. The suspect grabbed the victim from behind as she walked down Rock Garden Drive towards her residence. He then carried the victim to a grassy area behind a maintenance shed where he sexually assaulted her. The suspect was last seen running from the area.

The suspect is described as an African-American male with black hair and facial hair at the time of the attack. He is approximately 6’0” and was believed to be between the ages of 25 and 35 years-old at the time of the attack.

The public is asked to review this information and consider whether they know someone who generally fits this description, who lived or had ties to the area around the times of the assaults, or who may have been known to spend considerable amounts of time in those areas.

People who know the suspect may not believe that he is capable of committing these crimes. He may not necessarily have a violent criminal history. Because investigators are in possession of DNA evidence that can either positively link the suspect to his crimes or exclude innocent parties, citizens should not hesitate to provide information, even if it is just the name of a potential suspect.

The following agencies are cooperating in the investigation of these crimes: the Virginia State Police, City of Fairfax Police, University of Virginia Police, Charlottesville Police, Albemarle County Police, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Virginia Tech Police Department, George Mason Police Department and the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies are asking anyone with information to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the Virginia State Police Tip line at 434-352-3467.