It’s been six months since Rachel Morin was found brutally murdered near a Bel Air hiking trail, and nearly as long since the Sheriff’s Office announced any major breaks in the case.
The rental house where the 37-year-old mother of five had made her home has been demolished. The three fathers of her children have formed a bond, ensuring the children can still spend time together, although two daughters now live more than an hour away.
The seasons have changed, the leaves have fallen and new buds are forming in the woods where Morin took her last breath. But her family’s grief is just as keen.
“It still feels very unreal. It still feels like it was yesterday,” said her mother, Patty Morin, as she cried at a conference table in her lawyer’s office on Friday. “I don’t know if I can live with this pain the rest of the my life. It’s the most devastating thing a person can experience.”
By now, the facts of Rachel Morin’s murder are familiar not only to residents of Harford County and surrounding areas, but to the audiences of national cable news shows and tabloids that dissected the case.
Morin went out for a run on the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail around 6 p.m. on Aug. 5. Her boyfriend, Richard Tobin, reported her missing later that evening. The following afternoon, volunteers combing the woods for clues found her body. Although family members have posted photos and videos of a large tunnel where they say Morin’s body was found, the Sheriff’s Office has not confirmed the location of her body or publicly described the injuries she sustained.
About two weeks after Morin’s body was found, the Sheriff’s Office announced a major break in the case. DNA found on Morin’s body matched the DNA from a suspect in a March home invasion in Los Angeles. Law enforcement did not know the suspect’s name, but they had a home security video of him, and from that determined that he was a Hispanic man in his 20s, about 5-foot-9 and weighing around 160 pounds.
Investigators have worked feverishly to identify the man, but have yet to do so, said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.
“Our investigators take this case very personal and continue to work on investigative leads,” said Gahler, emphasizing that the case has not gone cold. “There are still leads coming in, but not at the pace they were coming in before.”
Sheriff’s deputies traveled to Los Angeles, Gahler said, and have interviewed the residents of the home and everyone who was present during the home invasion. The suspect in the home invasion assaulted a young girl and left behind a hat and a bottle from which investigators were able to obtain a DNA specimen, he said.
Gahler said it was unclear if the person who killed Morin attacked her at random or had been stalking her without her noticing. However, he said that from studying Morin’s cellphone, and talking to friends and family, and interviewing staff at places she frequented, such as the gym and tanning salon, it was clear that Morin did not know her attacker.
“It could be as easy as they passed in a grocery store and he developed a fascination with her, if indeed it was a targeted attack,” Gahler said.
Investigators have traveled to Chicago to track down a lead and passed out flyers in English and Spanish in both Bel Air and Los Angeles, Gahler said. It’s unclear whether the suspect lives in Bel Air, Los Angeles or another location, he said.
The Rice, Murtha & Psoras law firm, which represents Patty Morin and her children, announced Monday that the reward for information leading to an arrest had climbed to $35,000 after a husband-and-wife podcasting team donated $5,000 to the fund.
Family members and those close to Morin say they are frustrated by the pace of the investigation. “In a town so small and a community so close-knit, someone has to know something,” said Patty Morin. She noted that she and her other children had been out of town at a family funeral and they all now regret not more strongly encouraging Rachel to join them. Rachel, who owned a cleaning business, had stayed behind to work because she was short on funds.
Those left behind are trying to figure out how to go on without Rachel.
Her oldest daughter, Faye McMahon, 18, declined to be interviewed, but her father said it’s been a painful six months.
“She’s struggling with figuring out how to be an adult without her mother,” said her father, Matt McMahon. “The person she most wants to talk with is Rachel.”
Faye has always been like a second mother to her four younger siblings and has worked hard to stay in touch with them, McMahon said. The 13- and 12-year-old now live with their father on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The two youngest children live in Harford County with their father, Jon Alderson, who said he has had primary custody of them for several years.
Alderson said his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter see a grief counselor weekly and often have sudden mood swings as they try to process their mother’s killing.
“They’ll be fine, and then all of a sudden, they’ll be angry. They’ll break down and cry,” he said. “I try to sit down and talk with them and I cry too.”
Alderson said his youngest child marked a painful milestone this winter, her first birthday without her mother. He threw a party at an ice rink for her 8th birthday so she would not fixate on her mother’s absence. “Rachel always came to their parties,” he said.
The three fathers have joined forces to keep the kids connected, planning holiday celebrations and long weekends for them to be together.
To further complicate their grief, the home that Morin had rented for several years on Old Emmorton Road in Bel Air was demolished in the fall, the fathers said. Many properties along that stretch are being redeveloped.
“It’s been tough for all of them,” said McMahon. “The memories are still there, but the tangible place where the memories happened are gone.”