Memorial events mark 25th year since bombing of jet over Lockerbie

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- Families of some of the 270 people who died in an airliner bombing 25 years ago gathered for memorial services Saturday in the United States and Britain, honoring victims of a terror attack that killed dozens of American college students and created instant havoc in the Scottish town where wreckage of the plane rained down.

Bagpipes played and wreaths were laid in the Scottish town of Lockerbie and mourners gathered for a moment of silence at London's Westminster Abbey, while U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told victims' relatives at Arlington National Cemetery that they should take comfort in their unity even if time cannot erase their loss.

"We keep calling for change, and fighting for justice, on behalf of those no longer with us. We rededicate ourselves -- and our nation -- to the qualities that defined the men and women that we lost," Mr. Holder said during the ceremonies near Washington, D.C.

The events marked the 25th anniversary of the explosion of Pan Am 103, a New York City-bound flight that exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after takeoff from London on Dec. 21, 1988. Many of the victims were American college students flying home for Christmas, including 35 Syracuse University students participating in study abroad programs. Several other passengers had strong ties to Western Pennsylvania.

The attack, caused by a bomb packed into a suitcase, killed 259 people aboard the plane, and 11 others on the ground also died.

The Arlington ceremony took place beside a cairn of 270 blocks of red Scottish sandstone, a memorial structure dedicated to the attack. Wreaths flanked the structure, the ceremonial taps was played and victims' relatives recited the names of the people killed.

In Scotland, officials including Scottish leader Alex Salmond and relatives of victims gathered Saturday at Lockerbie's Dryfesdale Cemetery.

Syracuse University was also holding a public memorial service in a campus chapel as well as a procession to the university's Wall of Remembrance.

One man -- former Libyan intelligence official Abdel Baset al-Megrahi -- was convicted of the bombing, and a second Libyan suspect was acquitted of all charges. Megrahi was given a life sentence, but Scottish authorities released him on humanitarian grounds in 2009 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in Tripoli last year.

Many questions remain unanswered about the attack, but the governments of Britain, the U.S. and Libya issued a joint statement Saturday saying they will cooperate to reveal "the full facts" of the case.

"We are striving to further deepen our co-operation and welcome the visit by U.K. and U.S. investigators to Libya in the near future to discuss all aspects of that co-operation, including sharing of information and documents and access to witnesses," the statement read.

Western Pennsylvania residents were not left untouched by the grief and anger that gripped so many 25 years ago. Several on board the ill-fated flight had strong ties to the region.

Among them were Elyse Saraceni and Beth Ann Johnson, who were students at what is now Seton Hill University in Greensburg. Another was David Gould, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School Public and International Affairs. He lived in Squirrel Hill.

Army Major Charles McKee, a Wilkinsburg native and a Trafford High School graduate, was stationed in Lebanon when he died in the crash. Barry Valentino, who grew up in Pleasant Hills, where he was once a volunteer fire fighter, was returning from a vacation abroad to his home in San Francisco when he perished.

Other victims with the ties to the region included Ann Gorgacz, a 76-year-old widow living in New Castle, who was returning from London with daughters Loretta Gorgacz, 46, and Linda Gordon, 39. All three women were killed.

And Valerie Canady, 25, a native of Morgantown, W.Va., was coming home for Christmas from her job in London.

Post-Gazette staff writer Bill Schackner contributed.


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