Nothing changed for Joanne Hartunian after she heard reports of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s death Thursday.
Her 21-year-old daughter Lynne is still dead, just like the other 258 people who boarded the ill-fated Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988. Gadhafi’s brutal demise isn’t going to bring her back, nor is it going to wipe away 23 years of grief she’s felt since the terrorist bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.
“It doesn’t change my life at all,” she said from her Delmar home Thursday. “It doesn’t bring Lynne back, and that would have been the only resolution that would have made a difference in my life.”
Gadhafi’s regime was suspected of ordering the Lockerbie bombing, an assertion that was later verified by Libya’s ex-justice minister in February. Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted as the mastermind in 2001, but was released after being diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer just eight years into a life sentence.
Gadhafi accepted Libya’s responsibility for the bombing and paid compensation to the victims’ families. But he never admitted ordering the attack.
Hartunian held some hope that Gadhafi would be taken alive, so that he might help identify other perpetrators in the bombing. With his death, however, her hope for more answers has diminished.
“It’s still unresolved in that respect,” she said. “We know that not just one man did this.”
Overall, Hartunian was indifferent to the news. She was pleased the Libyan people will no longer be subject to Gadhafi’s brutal regime, yet had no personal feelings toward his death.
“I can’t tell you I’m jubilant because it doesn’t make any difference in my life,” she said.
Lynne Hartunian was a senior at SUNY Oswego returning home after a semester in London. She was among dozens of New Yorkers killed after a terrorist’s bomb ripped through the cargo hold of the Boeing 747.
The blast sheared off the cockpit and part of the fuselage, causing the plane and all 259 passengers and crew to plummet to their deaths in the small town of Lockerbie. Eleven people died on the ground.
Five other victims had ties to the Capital Region, including twin brothers Eric and Jason Coker, 20, of Greenville, whose mother lived in Washington County; Melina Hudson, 16, of Albany; U.S. Air Force Sgt. Edgar Eggleston III of Queensbury; and Christopher Jones of Claverack.
The bombing was cited by Richard Hartunian, Lynne’s brother, when he was sworn in as U.S. district attorney for Northern New York in May 2010. In his speech after being sworn in, he said his family resolved to rise above the anger and pain caused by the tragedy.
The prosecutor declined to comment Thursday. His mother said the Hartunian family has tried to put behind them the tragic night Lynne died, but always keep her memory fresh in their minds.
“We talk about her a lot,” she said. “We have grandchildren who didn’t know her and we talk to them about her. In that respect, she stays alive.”
Others were more celebratory about the death of Gadhafi. Susan Cohen, of Cape May Court House, N.J., has been waiting for this day since shortly after her 20-year-old daughter was killed in the Lockerbie bombing.
“I would get up each day and run to the computer and look up any news articles about what was going on with him: reading, reading reading, every day, waiting for this,” she said.
Thursday morning, she got the news. Gadhafi was dead. And she planned to keep a promise that she had made to herself long ago.
“I’m just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate,” she said.
Cohen said she spent an anxious morning devouring news reports that initially hinted — but could not confirm — that Gadhafi was dead. She was relieved when she received the final word.
“I didn’t want him to go to a trial,” she said. “When you have a tyrant, a monster like him, we’re all better off with him dead. Now there can be no illusion of him ever returning to power.”
Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J., whose 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was a Syracuse University student aboard the flight, said she was stunned to hear of the dictator’s death. She said she was feeling “relief, knowing he can’t hurt and torture anyone else.”
“For 20-some years, I never thought this day would come,” she said. “The world is a better and safer place today.”
Her father, Bob Monetti, of Cherry Hill, says there’s still a lot of information that relatives need to know.
“There are a number of people who were involved in the bombing who have not been arrested or captured,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Monetti opened a nursery school with his daughter in Mount Laurel, using funds he received in Gadhafi’s monetary settlement with the victims’ families, a deal reached years after the bombing.
Weipz agreed that Gadhafi’s death still doesn’t close the book on Lockerbie.
“Ultimately, the one thing I hope is he had evidence on him,” she said. “All the families really want to know the truth of how this happened. That has been our motto since 1988, and it remains our motto in 2011.”
Bert Ammerman of River Vale, N.J., whose brother, Tom, died in the bombing, said Thursday was a day he had longed for.
“I never thought I would see the day this man, this coward, would no longer be part of the world population,” he said. “I can say today with a great deal of satisfaction that my brother and the other 269 people that were massacred on Dec. 21, 1988, did not die in vain.”
Federal legislators from the Capital Region were also pleased to learn of Gadhafi’s death. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said the world is a safer place without the dictator.
“New Yorkers know better than almost anyone else how evil a man Moammar Gadhafi was,” he said in a news release. “Hopefully his death will bring some degree of closure to the many families who lost loved ones on Flight 103. The world is a better and safer place without him.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko is hoping Gadhafi’s death will ultimately result in the spread of peace and stability throughout the Middle East.
“There’s no denying there was a lot of pain and anguish associated with his actions,” he said during a telephone interview. “Many people paid the price because of his designs.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Gadhafi’s death will now allow the Libyan people to unify to write the next chapter of the nation’s history. She cautioned the new government to hold accountable all those responsible for terrorist acts under the dictator’s brutal reign.
“The Transitional National Council must get all the information we can learn about the Lockerbie bombing and put Al-Megrahi back in prison where he belongs,” she said in a news release.