Courage, Compassion, and the Rule of Law: The Legacies of Those We Lost in the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
Remarks prepared for delivery.
Before we begin, I do want to take a moment to thank Kathryn for bringing us all together today. More importantly, I want to thank her for pouring so much of her heart and soul into this investigation over the years. Kathryn is more than just the face of the FBI for all of you. She’s an advocate. She’s a constant source of support. And for some of you, she’s family. And we’re so grateful she’s part of our FBI family.
I want to thank our partners—and our friends—from Scotland for joining us today, and, of course, our colleagues from the Department of Justice. And I want to welcome our own former FBI Director and longstanding member of the FBI family, Judge William Webster.
To the families and loved ones here today, thank you for letting us mark this occasion with you.
Thirty years ago today, you were living everyday lives. You were going about your day, working, running errands, preparing for the holidays. Awaiting the arrival of your loved ones. And the difference between your lives on that December 20 and 21 is so vast, the chasm is so deep and so wide, that it’s unfathomable to people who didn’t live through it.
The loss of a loved one in the natural order of things is one of life’s darkest offerings. The loss of a loved one before their time—young in age, or with children at home, or in the prime of their lives—is something far more heartbreaking. But the sudden loss of a loved one at the hands of someone else, a loss born of hatred and evil, a loss lived out in the public eye ... most of us can’t begin to imagine what that’s like.
It was 30 years ago. But for you, it was yesterday. Because time is relative. It’s a marker, a historical notation. It can smooth rough edges, but it can’t erase loss. And it doesn’t heal all wounds, no matter how many years may come to pass.
On the evening of December 21, you became lonely voyagers, cast off on a course you never chose, with no map, no compass, and no lights to guide you. And over the years, you have found your own way, through long, dark nights and crashing waves. You could have stayed out at sea. But you have moved forward, in the Lockerbie tradition.
It might have been easier to find peace in a more private way. But through your commitment, your perseverance, and your love, you’ve helped hold the government of Libya and the Pan Am Corporation accountable.
You’ve pushed for improvements to aviation security. You’ve continued to press government officials to understand the lasting damage and danger of terrorism, both here at home and abroad. You’ve changed the way victims of terrorism and their loved ones are treated by government officials, including through the FBI’s Victim Services Division, under Kathryn’s caring and expert guidance. You’ve stood by other families who have lost their loved ones to acts of terrorism. Most importantly, you’ve stood together. And you’ve done all this in the face of your own heartbreak.
We know you still have questions. We know you want more from the FBI and the Department of Justice. But I also want you to know, as I stand here today, that we in the FBI have not forgotten those 270 lives lost 30 years ago.
We have not forgotten what you lost that night. We have not forgotten our responsibility to find those behind the attack and to bring whatever measure of peace and justice we can. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. Yes, the wheels may turn too slowly at times. But we never, ever forget.
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I wouldn’t typically turn to a science fiction writer for a better understanding of the very real grief and loneliness and darkness of evenings yet to come. But you already understand grief and loneliness. You’re well acquainted with darkness. Maybe words of hope and resilience and love—words that capture the legacy of those we lost—will offer solace.
In the book Fahrenheit 451, novelist Ray Bradbury wrote about what we leave behind when we leave this world. In his words:
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said…. Something your hand touched some way, so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it, into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.
The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and the real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
The lives we lost that evening—they were the gardeners. They changed each one of you in their own way; they made you their own. Their legacies are in the touching, and what they left behind, long after they took their hands away.
Those who stood up for what is good and right—from the investigators and the prosecutors to the people who did whatever they could to help, in Scotland, here at home, and around the world—they, too, are gardeners in their own way.
Those from the Syracuse University community, from the faculty to the student body to the more than 1,000 Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars, who have honored your loved ones by living rich, full lives—they are gardeners.
Those of you here to honor your loved ones—you are gardeners. Each of you has changed something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s more like your loved ones and how you wish to remember them. You planted the seeds of loss and heartbreak and cultivated something strong and true, something that will last well after you take your hands away. Your loved ones live on, within each of you. Your understanding of who they were and how they lived will last more than a lifetime.
And for everyone who felt the impact of this attack, our sense of what is just and compassionate will live on, year after year.
That is the legacy of those we lost. That is the legacy of each and every person whose life has been touched by this dark moment in time.
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In a few minutes, we’ll dedicate a permanent memorial to the victims of Pan Am Flight 103.
Nearly two generations of people have been born into this world since that night in 1988. This memorial will serve as a reminder—for all FBI employees, official visitors, and members of the public—of the 270 lives we lost in that hateful attack, and the legacies they left behind.
It will serve as a reminder of the need to stay closely connected with our partners, both here at home and around the world, to keep all of our citizens safe from harm.
It will serve as a reminder that the FBI has a long memory and a never-ending commitment to justice and the rule of law. It will serve as a reminder of why we do the work we do, and who we do it for.
Thank you for being here today. May God bless you today, tomorrow, and in the evenings yet to come.