Susan Cohen watched news of the terror attacks in Brussels on March 22 and thought of all the families whose lives will never be the same because of terrorism.

Families like hers.

“I know what these people will live with. My heart breaks,” she said.

Cohen, 78, and her husband, Daniel, lost their only daughter, Theodora, when she and 269 other people were killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Theodora was just 20 years old.

The Middle Township parents are featured in a new documentary chronicling the bombing, the still-unresolved investigation and the too-cozy business dealings between Libya and the British and U.S. governments.

“Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103” will make its New Jersey debut in Atlantic City on Saturday during the Garden State Film Festival.

At least 33 of the bombing victims were from New Jersey. Another 11 were killed in Lockerbie from falling debris.

Director Phil Furey, 35, of Los Angeles, said the disaster and its investigation were nightly news for years. The bombing reverberated across five presidencies, even to President Barack Obama, who objected to the early release on medical grounds of convicted bomber Abdel al-Megrahi in 2009.

The bomber received a hero’s welcome in Libya and lived another three years.

But no documentary had put the disaster and its aftermath into any context, he said.

Furey spent more than three years interviewing victims’ families, traveling to Lockerbie and piecing together the political back story surrounding the disaster.

The film uses news footage to give the nearly 30-year-old tragedy a sense of immediacy and interviews with victims that render it all too relevant today.

Furey earned the trust of the Cohens and several other American families through whose eyes he retells the story. The film argues that the U.S. and British governments failed to hold former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi accountable for the murder of 270 innocent people because of their interest in Libyan oil.

The film chronicles other insults to the victims’ families, some of whom had to wait at the animal-quarantine section of Kennedy Airport to claim their loved ones’ remains.

“Now when someone is murdered abroad and it has something to do with terrorism, an FBI agent is with the body until it makes it home. All of the belongings of the victims are lovingly cared for,” Furey said.

When the U.S. State Department refused to answer the families’ questions, they got angry — and organized — threatening to picket the White House in the weeks after the tragedy.

“The most disturbing thing to me about this is that it could have happened to anyone,” Furey said. “And when it does happen, there are so many lives that are destroyed in a moment. And that is so unfair and maddening.”

Furey said he approached the Cohens, in particular, about his film because they were outspoken advocates for justice during the decades in which the suspected bombers were apprehended and brought to trial. The Cohens, both published authors, wrote a book about their ordeal as bereaved parents in 2000.

Theodora, who went by Theo for short, was returning home for the holidays after spending a semester studying in England. She was strong-willed, witty and sharp, her mother said.

“When I think of my talented, young daughter, just 20 years old, losing her life that way, I feel terrible it’s still happening to other families even today,” Cohen said. “Lockerbie was the canary in the coalmine for terrorism.”

Libya agreed to pay $10 million to each family of the victims. The Cohens refused $6 million of that sum because it was tied to lifting U.S. sanctions and removing Libya from a list of nations sponsoring terrorism.

Cohen said she remains angry and deeply embittered.

“It really ruined my life,” she said.

Cohen will not watch the completed film, at least for now.

“I am working up to watching it. The day will come,” she said.

But she thinks it’s important to hold the U.S. government responsible for its foreign-policy decisions and its security lapses (a warning of an imminent terror attack was given to U.S. diplomats in Europe but not the public).

“I know the story because I lived it,” she said. “But other people don’t know it. It’s really more important for them to see it.”

Contact: 609-463-6712

Twitter @ACPressMiller

Staff writer

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Load comments