It is January 1989 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, and it is less than a month after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Family and friends of the dead at Syracuse University are joined by thousands of others to remember.
Dennis Unger, a Syracuse University professor from 1983-1991, addressed the thousands in attendance,
“By this one terrible fireball in the sky, we know again that all human life is fragile, even the healthiest and most promising," said Unger. "All human voyages, all adventures and dreams of man are undertaken on a dangerous earth. Time and chance happens to us all. And we still ask of ourselves and of the world, ‘What happened?’”
It is the families of the dead who will press the question. Demanding answers to questions on lax security and insisting the government not give up the hunt for the killers.
“I guess the saying is ‘extraordinary events can make ordinary people do extraordinary things’. There is no group of families, that I'm aware of, in our history that have had such an effect as far as legislation and legal developments. I mean, they have been tireless,” said James Kreindler, an attorney for Pan Am 103 families.
Twenty years after a bomb robbed them of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, there is still a debate over whether they have won the justice they sought. All too often, they believe, they hear the refrain "move on."
“I don't like ‘move on’. ‘Move on’ in America, implies get over it. Get rid of it. Shed it. That is not something that I will ever, every accept to my dying day. No, this happened, It's real. We lived with it. We've experienced it. We live with it all the time. Uh-uh. Uh-uh. No phony psycho-babble,” Susan Cohen, the mother of a Pan Am 103 victim said. “She was mine, my daughter and I always point to what was attractive. She was witty and attractive. But, what if she was none of those things. She was a human being and someone I would have loved. And she lost it all. So, in the end, yes, the horrible thing is that that is just gone forever in one mad, insane gesture.”
Paul Hudson, the father of a Pan Am 103 victim said, “There's life before something like this happens, a tragedy in a family, especially a child, and there's life after and they're not the same. It's like BC and AD. At first you just go on instinct and you're reacting to what the events are that are unfolding, and it's only much later that you can, in my case, really start to grieve and to try to make sense of it.”
In Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, Jeanine Boulanger finds comfort in a painting by a friend of the Scottish countryside. Comfort and hope.
“When I think of her, I think of this beautiful, pastoral place and she would have absolutely loved this,” Jeanine Boulanger says as she studies the large painting. “We carry our loved ones in our hearts. They're always with us. But, yet, I think we look to promise, and we look to hope in the future, You know, I always say, gee, I think she'd probably say, ‘Mom, you did OK.’”
It has taken time, but she has emerged from the darkness.
“The scar's still there. But, I carry Nicole with me. And, it would make no sense for me to give up my own life or not care about my own life if it was in memory of the life that she lost. Yeah, life is different. It is not the same. But, we still are able to get up every morning and enjoy the beautiful sunrise. To, hopefully, extend a hand when somebody needs it. To show compassion when somebody is in need of that compassion. And to, perhaps, do a little bit more than take up space on the planet,” Boulanger said.
“Love creates a very powerful bond and I'm glad I have that bond with my daughter, Karen. I'm grateful for that,” Peggy Hunt said.
“You have to be happy with your memories. You have to be happy with your faith. Your belief that you'll see each other again. That there is a better place. And, from that aspect, it does ease the pain. But you'll always have that hollowness inside of you that never goes away,” Robert Hunt said.
Two decades later, we are left with images. A small town in Lockerbie littered with debris from a ghastly mass murder. Faces. Dozens and dozens of faces, frozen in time. Lives cut short. Potential lost.
“I have no idea, but they could have done a lot. As could have everybody on that plane. There were a lot of special people on that flight,” said Martha Boyer, the sister of a Pan Am 103 victim. “A lot of young kids who could have done amazing things. But, you never know.”
In a quiet corner of Scotland stands a wall with 270 names. They are the names of innocent victims caught in the crossfire of an undeclared war.
And we are still no closer to answering that question posed in 1989 -- what happened?