Touching tributes paid to 270 Lockerbie victims after 'senseless act' 35 years ago

Remembrance services held in Scotland and US to mark 35th anniversary of Libyan terror attack on Pan Am flight

Josephine Donaldson lays flowers in the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery, Lockerbie, to mark the 35th anniversary of the bombing. AP
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It was an emotional moment for Josephine Donaldson as she placed her hand on the memorial wall, dedicated to the 270 people killed in the Lockerbie bombing, and laid flowers for "her two girls".

Every year since Libyan terrorists detonated a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, Ms Donaldson has paid tribute to two of the US students from Syracuse University who were killed.

It is 35 years since she found a handbag containing 21st birthday cards in her garden belonging to student Nicole Boulanger, whose body was never recovered.

Along with two other Lockerbie residents, Ms Donaldson became known as the laundry lady after she volunteered to clean, iron and return all the victims' belongings to their loved ones and in doing so discovered more birthday cards that belonged to Amy Beth Shapiro, who had also been killed. The two girls were born on the same day and died on the same day and every year since Ms Donaldson lays flowers for the victims she calls "my girls".

On Thursday she joined others at a rose-laying ceremony in Dryfesdale Cemetery to mark the 35th anniversary.

“We remember all those taken in a senseless act of violence 35 years ago,” Rev Jeff Brown said as he lit the first of four candles in memory of the victims.

“We remember also the outpouring of love that continues today from the people of Lockerbie and the surrounding area, to those in Syracuse and all the other countries.”

Wreaths are also being laid at Rosebank Crescent, which became the site of a huge crater, and Sherwood Crescent, where houses were also destroyed.

All 259 passengers and crew were killed in the terrorist attack along with 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground.

The crime scene covered 2,190 square kilometres, including rural Tundergarth, where wreaths were laid outside Tundergarth Church on Thursday. It sits opposite the field where the nose cone of the plane fell to the ground.

Victims were of 21 nationalities and 190 were American, including 35 students from Syracuse University in New York.

Services were also held on Thursday in the US at Syracuse University and at Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, where for the first time, a collection of colour photos of the victims was unveiled.

Organisers of the permanent memorial in Lockerbie said the impact of the bombing has been lifelong for survivors, and they are working to create a centre similar to the 9/11 museum in New York so the tragedy can be understood.

Lori Carnochan, 35, from the Tundergarth Kirks Trust, said some people who remember the Lockerbie bombing are still trying to get in touch with victims’ families to pass on messages about their loved ones.

“We speak about ‘our survivors’, the people who weren’t killed in Lockerbie," she said.

“There’s people in Lockerbie who are only now speaking about it. There are people who were five, six, seven years old when it happened, who were still having nightmares into their teens because of trauma they suffered that night.

“Lockerbie has a population of only 4,000 and a huge amount of people have PTSD. It’s such a small, close-knit community, lots of the victims were well known. Rural communities look after each other.

“Despite the terror which was rained down on them, people in Lockerbie were so welcoming to people from all over the world.

“Sherwood Crescent is where the huge crater was, houses were literally just vaporised. Rosebank Crescent is where houses were completely demolished and a huge amount of bodies found. At Tundergarth, around 100 bodies were found in the fields.

“These were people who were on the plane. It is just horrific.”

The regime of Muammar Qaddafi was blamed for the atrocity. One Libyan citizen was later convicted of involvement in the bombing and sentenced to jail in Scotland.

Another Libyan, accused of making the bomb, is due to stand trial in the US in 2025.

On Thursday, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf paid tribute to the “strength and compassion victims’ families and the community of Lockerbie have shown”.

“On the anniversary of the terrible events of December 21, 1988, in Lockerbie, my thoughts and sympathies remain with all those who lost loved ones on board Pan Am Flight 103 and those in the town of Lockerbie,” he said.

“My thoughts are also with the emergency workers who responded in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity. Their rapid response along with the people of Lockerbie while facing extraordinary circumstances demonstrated extreme kindness and humanity in the face of such horrific events.

“While those lost on that night can never be replaced, and the events have had a lasting impact on the town, I know links were forged following the disaster, including the Syracuse University scholarship programme with Lockerbie Academy.

“The strength and compassion that both the victims’ families and the community of Lockerbie have shown has created a legacy of friendship and ensured that the memory of those who died lives on.”

Lockerbie bombings - in pictures

Lockerbie remains the worst terrorist attack on British soil and the second worst to affect the US.

On Thursday a trial date was finally set for May 2025 for the man accused of creating the bomb.

Police Scotland’s Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham attended a memorial service in Washington, which he said was a “great honour”.

“My thoughts today remain with everyone affected by the bombing of Pan Am 103 and the terrible loss of 270 lives. They will never be forgotten,” he said.

“The impact of this horrific crime continues to have a profound effect in Lockerbie, across Scotland and internationally as we mark the 35th anniversary.

“We continue working closely with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and in the US with colleagues from the FBI and the Department of Justice, on both the investigation and supporting the ongoing prosecution in the US courts.

“Time is no barrier to justice and Police Scotland remains committed to bringing those responsible for this atrocity to justice.”

Updated: December 21, 2023, 4:27 PM