Tuesday, January 26, 2010

VA Tech Student's Body Found, and It's a Whole New Ballgame

A body which appears to be that of Morgan Harrington, a 20 year-old student at Virginia Tech, was found today, more than three months after and a few miles away from where she was last seen after a concert in Charlottesville, Virginia.  She disappeared on October 17 and was last seen walking alone down a nearby road.  Human remains were found today on a farm southwest of Charlottesville, and investigators are pretty sure they are hers.

Two weeks ago, her mother wrote in her blog:
I pray that the truth of this crime shows itself while Morgan is still alive. I have no interest in recovering a body. I would rather not know and always have some morsel of hope.
The discovery today is a direct blow to what her mother wanted and must have known might happen.  At the same time, I'm not sure any of us can really know what outcome, other than finding her alive, would be better unless we've lived it.

Whether or not finding Morgan's body is better or worse for her family, it certainly does represent a new chapter in their efforts to deal with her disappearance.  Having a family member disappear is an ongoing event.  Whatever peace you make with what has happened comes slowly.  It is traumatic and awful, but it is not final. 

Now that her body has been found, however, Morgan's family will have to take everything they've come to understand and deal with about what might have happened to her and combine it with the new knowledge that she is never coming home.  That inevitably will bring with it new questions, doubts and fears, and with them will come new post-traumatic symptoms (or recurrence of the old ones).  Effectively, this is a new trauma.

At some point investigators may figure out what happened to Morgan Harrington.  If and when that happens, it will represent yet another new chapter in her family's recovery.  The new information will need to be processed and dealt with and understood, and the images and thoughts associated with it will be intrusive for a while.  The arrest and trial of a suspect may bring new feelings once again.

So, in that sense, maybe Morgan's mother was right.  Maybe it would be better not to know, because at least that was a steady, unchanging fact even if it left a lot of uncertainty.  Now that certainty is here, on the other hand, the next phase of healing can begin.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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