Feeling the Impact of Flight 103

20 Years After a Plane Exploded Over Scotland, Victims' Families Reflect On Losses -- and Gains

Video
Families of victims of Pan Am Flight 103 united in Arlington, Va., to mark the 20th anniversary of plane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Video by AP
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008

Frank Ciulla would be proud.

Twenty years to the day after he was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, his wife, Mary Lou, is doing okay. It was a journey she'd rather not have taken, but it was rich with new friends and meaning.

His younger daughter, Michelle, is 37 now -- she was 17 on Dec. 21, 1988, when the big airliner was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland. Daughter Laurie is 39, and son Frank is 41, almost the age his father was when he died.

They were all together yesterday, the girls hovering protectively around their mother, as they and several hundred other people assembled on a windy hill in Arlington National Cemetery to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing that killed 259 people in the airplane and 11 on the ground.

The crowd sat bundled against the blustery weather before the Lockerbie Cairn, a Scottish sandstone tower erected in the cemetery beneath a stand of oak trees that yesterday stood bare against a changeable sky of blue and gray.

Hand bells tolled as the 270 names were read aloud -- "my daughter," "our son," "my father." Many people wore gold pins with the logo of the airline, which went out of business in 1991, or commemorative scarves or buttons. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was there, along with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

To some, the passage of 20 years was like nothing: It felt like yesterday.

Others noted how much time had passed: Parents grown old. Children grown up. Other acts of terrorism committed.

Mary Lou Ciulla marveled that she was even there. Her husband, Frank, 45, was a British-based chief financial officer for Chase Manhattan Bank and was headed home from Britain to be with his family in Park Ridge, N.J. The jumbo jet was en route from London to New York.

"If you would have told me 20 years ago that I was going to be still here, I wouldn't believe you," she said. "But now, it's an amazing journey. I met a lot of wonderful people. . . . But I think we'd all change it. Even though we met each other, and we love each other, if we never met, it would have been okay."

"It's been a hard 20 years," she said. "I look at it, I don't even think it's 20 years. . . . It's like it just happened."

Daughter Michelle Ciulla Lipkin said it feels like they've all had two lives, "one before, one after this happened."


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