The quaint college town in which I have spent the past 7 years has been making headlines, and not for the usual exciting reasons. Working within the University of Virginia Health System, employees are kept up-to-date on current events that require attention. Lately, I've been anything but at ease. Monday morning, the University Police, and subsequently the University President, issued emails regarding a missing student. Having been last heard from early Saturday morning, Hannah Graham, a second year student, remains missing, and both university and Charlottesville Police are on a high-stress search for her. My supervisor and I have been following the search through a local news source (the same one at which I interned 4 years ago). You can read more about the story here.
It is so sad, but my friends and I have noticed that there's been an uptick in missing young girls over the past four years. This is not the first time Charlottesville has gotten bad press-- most notably, you may recall Morgan Harrington, who went missing during a Metallica concert and who's decayed body subsequently found months later on the outskirts of a farm in a neighboring rural county. That took place during the fall of 2009. The following September (2010), Samantha Clark went missing. 2012: Dashad "Sage" Smith, a transgender teen. Alexis Murphy, a rising Nelson County senior, August 2013. And now, Hannah. I am not one to feed into conspiracies, but I can't help but think that these are somehow linked. And I am not the only one in my group of friends to believe this. It may not be the same person that is responsible, but perhaps a network of abductors? At the end of the day, it comes down to one thing: are we really safe?
I am a big proponent of not living a life of fear, but that being said, I believe that most of us do not take the necessary basic precautions when alone. First thing first, as a young woman, or really as any sex at any age, there is safety in numbers. My roommate, Melissa, and I were talking and we noted that this could have been any one of us back during our days at The University. We went out to parties/bars and drank while underage; we made the (short) walk home alone on more than one occasion; and while we maybe didn't show as much skin, we certainly dressed less for comfort and more for attention. At the time, I was active in the gym, and I distinctly remember thinking, "I'm fit-- I weight train, and I have a background in track & field and cross country. If I was in a position where someone tried to follow me or apprehend me, I could easily outrun them." Such stupid thoughts for such an otherwise smart girl.
One of the reasons this is making headlines is because the University of Virginia is known to be an "Ivy League of the South." Students don't just get in on a whim; they have to earn their spot in their graduating class, and once accepted, you have to continue to prove yourself. It's no easy feat. If she was anything like me, this was the school I had my heart and my academic career set on. I worked for my acceptance. UVa is a school known for the caliber of it's students. We all make poor choices, but all of my fellow Hoos have level heads on their shoulders. I know that's quite the generalization to make, but it is true to a large extent.
Yes, this series of events could happen at any college or university in any city or town in any country. But the fact of the matter is that this happened here, in the heart of Charlottesville, and has been happening for a few years now. I wish for the best-- I sincerely hope that they find Hannah Graham alive. I hope that she is reunited with her friends and her family. I hope that this tragedy has a positive outcome. Unfortunately, that just is not the reality of missing person reports.
It will be interesting to see the changes that are implemented from this occurrence. While there have now been a total of 4 missing young girls between the ages of 17 - 19 over the past 5 years, this is the first in which the young woman was a university student. President Teresa Sullivan has done an excellent job of reaching out to students, alumni, and the community to bring hope to us all and unite us throughout this tragic time. However, I don't foresee this not causing a chain of events leading to heightened awareness and security not only across University Grounds (aka campus) but across the surrounding areas as well.
My heart is with Hannah Graham, her friends, family, and loved ones, and with those who have experienced such an event.
I know not all of my readers are in the (Central) Virginia area, but please take note: