It was April 1989 and I waited anxiously, wondering if any of our daughter's artwork could be salvaged from the Pan Am 103 wreckage in Lockerbie. Gretchen, a fine arts major who was spending the fall semester of her junior year abroad, had called home when she secured a ride to Heathrow Airport on December 18, 1988. She was excited at the prospect of coming home after an eventful semester in London offered by Syracuse University's Division of International Programs Abroad.|
"I'll bring all of my artwork home with me," she said. One of her pieces was selected to be hung in a students' art exhibit at the London School of Art. "I'll tell you all about it when I see you." Sadly, her wish never materialized, for she died along with 269 others in the mid-air terrorist bombing over Lockerbie on December 21, 1988.
In our hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey, her father, Tom, and I were preparing for a spring 1989 opening and display of her works in mixed media at the local library. We had about 32 pieces from 2 1/2 years of study at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore. Hanging them for display was a painful process.
And then came the call from the American consulate in Edinborough an acrylic painting of a London rooftop scene was discovered among the wreckage. Located on the ground, it was in poor shape. Lockerbie constabulary identified it by Gretchen's signature on the back.
The painting arrived within 10 days. It was quarter-folded and smeared with diesel fuel and mud. Her signature was barely visible.
Luckily, the library exhibit was extended for four months and we were able to display it along with the rest of her work. An art restorer and SU parent in nearby Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, was kind enough to restore it for us. The event made the front page of our local newspaper.
I named the piece "Unfinished Business," since Gretchen had completed the design and filled in some color, but left the sky and a few other details unfinisheda symbol and, at the same time, a manifestation of a young talent's life cut short.|
It is the 10th anniversary of the heinous, cowardly act that took the lives of 35 Syracuse students. The terrorist bombing sent repercussions throughout the SU campus, the nation, and the world. Shocked and bereft, but determined to learn what had happened, many family members of the victims traveled to the Carrier Dome for a January 1989 memorial service. There we sought each other out, hoping to find understanding and comfort. We also embarked upon an effort to organize and become an advocacy group for political change.
Terrorist acts of isolated but scattered groups, regardless of whether these groups receive protection and financing from states that sponsor terrorism, are criminal acts and must be dealt with under international law. It was not until June 1991 that the Department of Justice, under the Bush administration, indicted two Libyan intelligence officersAbdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimahsuspected of placing an explosive device in a Samsonite bag aboard the feeder flight in Malta. The flight was destined for Frankfurt and then London. We must keep in mind that there are others unnamed in the indictment, and, most likely, such an act of mass murder would not have been executed without the approval of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Since organizing, the families of the 35 SU students killed in the bombing have lent emotional support to one another and succeeded in advocating for improvements in these areas:
"Unfinished Business" by Gretchen Dater
How have we victim families survived this ordeal? I often ask myself that very question. Certainly such unresolved issues as legal justice for the Libyan suspects, tighter security measures, and the desire for a safer, secure world underscore our children's sense of idealism. We successfully sued Pan American World Airways for lax security and for "willful misconduct" in allowing the mid-air explosion to happen. This one eventthe bombing has directed me personally to reprioritize my energies for the remainder of my life. In spirit, I join hands with Gretchen in working to make the world a safer place. Yet, in the midst of such lofty goals, there is a deep, ever-present pain in suffering the loss of a child.
- Tighter security measures for airlines and airports.
- The pursuit of legal means to bring justice to those responsible.
- Bringing pressure to bear on the United States government to enact stronger counter-terrorism measures.