During the long, terrifying night after Rachel Morin disappeared and before her body was found, her mother turned to a hymn for comfort.

“As a mother, you just want to be there for your babies, to protect them,” Patty Morin said Saturday, as she stood on a bridge near the spot where her daughter’s body was discovered. Rachel was her middle child, full of enthusiasm and spirit, and a mother of five herself.

“I couldn’t be there that night. I couldn’t protect her,” Morin said, choking back tears. “But God was there with her. God never left her side. And this song is my reminder of that.”

Then Morin and the small group of friends and relatives began to sing: “In the darkness God will keep me. He will stay and never sleep. In the darkness God is brighter, though the night is long and deep.”

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Rebekah Morin, left, and Patty Morin, center, grieve for their sister and daughter Rachel Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five who was found deceased on the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail two weeks ago.
A vigil for Rachel Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five, took place at the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail in Harford County on August 19, 2023. Morin's body was found on the trail on August 6 after disappearing on August 5 while hiking. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“As a mother, you just want to be there for your babies, to protect them.”

Patty Morin said Saturday, as she stood on a bridge near the spot where her daughter’s body was discovered.

Friends and loved ones gathered to remember Rachel Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five, on the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail in Harford County. The crowd left flowers, rosaries and photos on trees and benches. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Friends and loved ones comfort each other as they remember Rachel Morin. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The group had paused during an emotional walk to honor Rachel Morin, who disappeared Aug. 5 after going on a walk along the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail in downtown Bel Air. Her boyfriend reported the 37-year-old missing that evening, and volunteers scouring the woods found her body the following afternoon.

On Thursday, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office reported a major break in the case. DNA found on Morin’s body matched that of a man involved in a Los Angeles home invasion in May. Although law enforcement officials have not attached a name to the suspect, they describe him as a Hispanic man from 20 to 30, standing 5 foot 9 and weighing about 160 pounds.

“We believe this was a person that Rachel didn’t know, potentially a random act of violence,” Col. William Davis said at a news conference. “We know nothing more about him other than he was in L.A. in March and we believe him to be the murderer.”

As investigators continue to try to track down the suspect, more than 200 community members gathered Saturday at the Williams Street trailhead where Morin had parked her car before she disappeared. Her family passed out black T-shirts emblazoned with Morin’s portrait and invited people to lay flowers along the trail.

Joe Murtha, an attorney representing the family, addressed the crowd, describing Rachel Morin as a “woman of much joy and energy, a spiritual person.”

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“She was giving of the gifts that she had, and, unfortunately, she was taken much sooner than anyone would have expected,” he said.

Rev. Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace World Outreach, the Morin family’s church, also spoke. “Rachel was so popular; look at her popularity in the community,” he said. “Many of you knew her well. And I think that, if she was here today, she would say to us, as the word is saying, that He is the answer.”

Loved ones left flowers ranging from roses to lilies, sunflowers to orchids in Rachel Morin's memory along the trail that she loved to run. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
A vigil for Rachel Morin, a 37-year-old mother of five, took place at the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail in Harford County on August 19, 2023. Morin's body was found on the trail on August 6 after disappearing on August 5 while hiking.
As the mourners walked, they paused to tuck flowers among the tree stumps, benches and fences that frame the peaceful trail. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
A man hangs a rosary next to a photo of Rachel Morin. Morin was deeply involved in her church and faith. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

After a hymn, the crowd picked up bunches of roses, lilies, daisies and gladioli that had been donated by a local florist and began to march along the trail where Morin, a fitness buff, set off for her last walk two weeks ago. As the group trudged in the August sunshine, pushing strollers, corralling children and tugging on dog leashes, they paused to tuck flowers among the tree stumps, benches and fences that frame the peaceful trail.

Family members had posted photos of Morin along the path. Her mother paused by an old family picture showing Rachel, around 12, with red hair and sunglasses, surrounded by her sister and four brothers.

The loved ones of Rachel Morin taped photos of her to trees and laid flowers on the grounds of the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
A photo of a young Rachel Morin sits among flowers in the hands of a loved one. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“We’re family, but as they got older we were all friends,” Patty Morin said. “We’ve been walking this trail for over 20 years.”

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Many who joined the walk spoke of the shock that such a horrific crime could happen in sleepy Bel Air, which feels more like a small town than a suburb of Baltimore. Morin is Harford County’s fourth homicide victim this year.

“We don’t even have murders in Bel Air,” Kathy Fisher said. “We’re out here because we don’t want crimes like this in our community.”

Her friend Patty Dimarzo said she and Fisher had been walking the path with their daughters the day after Morin’s body was found. As they were walking back that day, they saw that someone had drawn the outline of a body on the path, which they photographed and sent to the sheriff’s office.

The fact that the killer has not been identified and apparently struck at random is chilling, Dimarzo said. “He could have been hiding out in the woods,” she said.

Flowers were looped into the chain link fences on both sides of the trail. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

“We don’t even have murders in Bel Air. We’re out here because we don’t want crimes like this in our community.”

Kathy Fisher, a member of the community

Friends and loved ones walk through one of the larger tunnels on the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail in Harford County on August 19, 2023 after honoring Rachel Morin during a daytime vigil. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)
Friends and loved ones walk through one of the larger tunnels on the Ma and Pa Heritage Trail after honoring Rachel Morin during a daytime vigil. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Morin’s case has drawn intense media coverage, with cable news shows and international tabloids dissecting the details of the killing of the attractive mother of five. Scores of videos on TikTok and YouTube chronicle each twist in the case, and more than 6,000 people have joined a Facebook group where amateur sleuths share theories.

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Tia Dash, a Harford County resident who hosts a true crime podcast, broadcast to social media from the trail but said she attended the walk out of a sense of kinship to Morin’s family. “Today is personal,” she said. “I walk these trails all the time with my family.”

Patty Morin walked surrounded by some of her other children, grandchildren, friends and fellow church members. Strangers tearfully embraced her. Again and again, she told the story of the song that she listened to as she waited for news of Rachel, her middle child, the one who looked so much like her.

Titled, “The Night Song,” it was written by an Australian Christian music group, CityAlight. Morin said the song will be played at her daughter’s funeral, which is planned for Aug. 27.

The song ends, “All this day Your hand has held me, God of Heaven, by my side. Thank You, Father, for Your goodness. You will hold me through the night. You will hold me through the night.”

julie.scharper@thebaltimorebanner.com

Baltimore Banner photojournalist Kaitlin Newman contributed to this report.

Julie Scharper is an enterprise reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Her work ranges from investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse to light-hearted features. Baltimore Magazine awarded Scharper a Best in Baltimore in 2023 for her series exposing a toxic work culture within the Maryland Park Service.

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