CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE - A death brought Susan Cohen the worst heartache a person can endure on a December day 23 years ago. A death Thursday brought her the most joy since that day.

Cohen, 73, of Hand Avenue, celebrated Thursday's death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. She blames him for ordering the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, and killing her only child, 20-year-old Theodora.

"I feel great joy. It's the happiest day of my life since Dec. 20, 1988, the day before my daughter died. Gadhafi killed my daughter and killed my future. I never got over it and never will," Cohen said.

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While some may have been squeamish about looking at pictures of Gadhafi's dead body, Cohen planned to make a copy.

"I'm going to put it up on the mantelpiece and throw darts at it every morning," Cohen said.

Killed by rebel forces outside his hometown of Sirte, the Libyan strongman got the ending he deserved, Cohen said. The bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 11 people on the ground and all 259 people on board the plane, including Theodora and 34 other students from Syracuse University who had been studying abroad but were returning for Christmas vacation. The average age of the victims was 27.

Those who died also include former Lower Township resident Robert Leckburg Jr., 30, a Lower Cape May Regional High School graduate and mechanical engineer returning home from a business trip in London, and William Pugh Jr., 56, a businessman with a home in Margate.

Cohen said Gadhafi killed thousands of others, mostly Libyans, during his reign of terror over the small North African nation.

"He had a tremendous amount of blood on his hands. I'm glad he didn't get a trial. For tyrants and monsters, death is what they deserve, and his death was like what he inflicted on so many people. That is cause to cheer," Cohen said.

Cohen said she does not believe in the afterlife. She does not expect to see her daughter again. She prefers to remember her as a talented young actress and singer with "a beautiful soprano voice."

Theo, as her mother calls her, went to London to study theater. She was returning with Christmas presents for the family, presents that never were delivered.

Cohen said Theodora would have turned 43 on Sept. 10 and likely would have been working as an actress or singer, and maybe gotten married and had children.

"I would have had happy years for a long time with grandchildren, and I missed that. It was ripped from me," Cohen said.

The thought of grandchildren ... holidays ... the bombed plane took away a lot of possibilities for Cohen and her husband, Daniel, 75. The Cohens moved here from New York after the bombing to flee memories that reminded them of what they lost. They wanted to be close to the beach.

Daniel Cohen recently suffered a stroke, but was told of Thursday's news.

"He's been watching it on television. He does grasp it and does know that it's good news," Cohen said.

Gadhafi never admitted that he ordered the bombing, but he paid reparations to the families of the victims. There were some trials of those involved, but Cohen always felt Gadhafi had to pay a steeper price.

"It's not who pulls the trigger. It's who pays for the bullets. Nothing happened in Libya without Gadhafi being behind it," she said.

The Cohens dedicated the rest of their lives to getting justice. They even wrote a book about the bombing and spoke out constantly. Cohen casts blame on some politicians, including several U.S. presidents, for letting Gadhafi off easy. She praised President Ronald Reagan, President Barack Obama, NATO allies and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for the way they dealt with Gadhafi.

She watched Obama's news conference Thursday afternoon and was pleased he mentioned the bombing. Obama told people to remember the tragic deaths and the bright smiles of the victims.

Cohen said Obama deserves some recognition, but she mostly credits the Libyan people for finally bringing down Gadhafi.

Following the announcement she had waited two decades to hear, Cohen hopes Gadhafi's death brings more details about the bombing - and all the people who contributed to Theo's death.

"This is a triumph moment. I never thought I'd live to see the day," Cohen said.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

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