No one had more reason to remember the night of Dec. 21, 1988, than Steven Flannigan. Christmas was only four days away, so Steve, then 14, had slipped next door with a present for his 10-year-old sister, Joanne. It was a new bike, and he wanted to set it up for her. Steve was in the neighbor's garage when one of the jet engines and a chunk of wing from Pan Am Flight 103 slammed into his house on Sherwood Crescent in the Scottish village of Lockerbie. He ran out to see an orange fireball where his three-bedroom home had just been. Where Joanne and his parents, Katherine, 41, and Thomas, 44, had just been. Only parts of Joanne's body were ever recovered; nothing of Steve's parents was.
There were plenty of other horrifying sights that night, sights that seared themselves into the collective memory of hundreds of families affected by the Lockerbie tragedy. Halfway up a wee hill, the fuselage had landed in the backyards of Rosebank Crescent. Bob Edgar ran out to see a baby boy's body snagged in a tree; Maxwell Kerr saw a young girl still belted into her seat, propped against the chimney atop a roof. She was so upright that they thought she might still be alive, until they reached her. Edgar counted 18 bodies in his own backyard, many still in their seats, but the detail that will forever remain in his mind is how most of them had crossed their fingers, and died that way.
A terrorist bomb had just blown the plane into pieces at 31,000 feet, but in the fuselage most of the 259 aboard survived the remaining 46.5 seconds until impact. Everyone aboard died, along with 11 people on the ground--including Steve Flannigan's parents and sister.
Certainly no one had more to remember than Flannigan. And no one would try harder to forget. In the dozen years that it took for British and American authorities to find, arrest and try the Libyan terrorist who last week was convicted of one of the 20th century's worst mass murders, Steve Flannigan grew up trying to put the night behind him. After he and an-other surviving brother, David, won a $3.2 million settlement from Pan Am, Steve wandered in and out of towns, relationships and jobs. He had an affair with his foster mother and was driven out of town by the scandal. He even tried, of all things, stunt flying. But the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, chief of airline security for the Libyan Intelligence Service, and a Libyan Arab Airlines employee, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, had just begun last year when Flannigan became Lockerbie's latest victim, and in many ways its saddest.
Worn down by a decade of sleepless nights, Flannigan drank two and a half gallons of beer at a pub on Aug. 17 and lay down on a railroad track. He was killed by a slow train that announced its approach with a long blast on an air horn. Flannigan was 26, the last surviving member of his immediate family. David died in 1993, reportedly of dope-induced heart failure in a cheap hostel in Thailand. David had left Lockerbie just before Pan Am 103 to live with friends, having fought with his father. But the two then reconciled on the phone, and David was planning to return home for Christmas. Steve's death "was the final tragedy in a terribly tragic story," his friend John Boyce said last week. "Lockerbie still seems to be claiming victims."
And generating controversy, seemingly without end. Last week Megrahi was convicted of the 270 murders by a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands. The trial was a compromise worked out by the United Nations to persuade Libya's leader, Muammar Kaddafi, to turn over the suspects. "Four hundred parents lost a child, 46 parents lost their only child, 65 women were widowed, 11 men lost their wives, 140 lost a parent, 7 lost both parents," chief prosecutor Colin Boyd told the panel of judges as they considered sentencing. Megrahi got life in a Scottish jail, with parole possible in 20 years. Fhimah was acquitted and returned to a hero's welcome in Tripoli, where Kaddafi sacrificed a camel for him. Kaddafi vowed that Libya would never accept responsibility for the bombing--one condition set for lifting sanctions.
Many Pan Am 103 families say Megrahi's conviction is just the first step in establishing that responsibility. This is especially true of the U.S. relatives, who fear that without legal pressure from them, President George W. Bush will join the Europeans and quietly drop sanctions. "Megrahi was an intelligence agent, and that points the finger right back at the regime," says Daniel Cohen of Cape May Court House, N.J., whose daughter Theodora was among 35 Syracuse University exchange students who died. "The same group of murderous thugs are running Libya now as were back then."
Despite its heated rhetoric, Libya has hinted that it will consider paying com- pensation. Ever since Libya turned over Megrahi and Fhimah for trial, U.N. sanctions have been suspended--except for the unilateral U.S. ban on American trade. By last fall Libya was proffering $35 billion in new projects, and Western businessmen were flocking there. "The European impulse," says David Mack of the Middle East Institute, "will be to close the door on the past and move on."
For many American Pan Am 103 families, that is impossible. They still make annual pilgrimages to Lockerbie; most stay with sympathetic local families. There are always fresh flowers at the four memorials marking where the plane's major chunks crashed. Many of the villagers, while hospitable, have begun to think the Americans are carrying the torch too far. "They just can't let go of it," says a woman whose own house was destroyed that night. She and her family were out at the time, but they lost everything except their lives. "It's time to just put it behind us; we can't go on whingeing endlessly. Sometimes I feel like telling them, 'Just pull up your socks, won't you?' " This woman says she was shocked at one meeting between American and British victims. "The Americans were way over the top," she says. "Some of them were saying they should nuke the Libyans. Nuke them, imagine."
As for Steve Flannigan, he, too, had spurned efforts by U.S. support groups to recruit him after the tragedy. "He got piles of mail from all the family groups, but they all just sat there unopened," says Boyce, who lived with him in recent years. Village leader Marjory McQueen says she was disappointed when Steve told her he wouldn't attend Lockerbie's 10th anniversary in 1998. "He tried to stay away, I guess because of the memories," she says. "But he couldn't, he kept coming back."
Perhaps because he had to. Jeannine Boulanger, an American nurse who is the emotional-support liaison for Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, says she wonders about the psychology of people like Flannigan who shun support groups like hers. Boulanger, of Shrewsbury, Mass., lost her daughter Nicole, one of the Syracuse students. Boulanger was filmed at JFK airport screaming, "Oh my baby, oh my baby," when she got the news--footage that has been rebroadcast many times. She says the loss was even harder to bear when the cause proved to beterrorism. "People are revictimized, over and over. Every time there's another development, the nose cone is on the screen. All of a sudden, on an ordinary day, Lockerbie is in the news, and it brings you right back." Adds Boulanger: "You have to recognize your grief to cope with it. If you don't deal with it, it's going to raise its ugly head." For Steve Flannigan, the last member of a family destroyed by one terrible night 12 years ago, it finally did.