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.
“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.
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Families of the Lockerbie bombing victims said on August 14, 2003, a $2.7 billion compensation fund agreed by Libya was just the first step mercurial leader Muammar Gaddafi must take to prove he had quit "the terrorism business". Syria's U.N. envoy, the Security Council president for August, said he expects Libya to deliver a letter accepting responsibility for the mid-air bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on Thursday or Friday. This file photo shows rescue personnel carrying a body away from the crash site in December 1988. REUTERS/Greg Bos/files GB/
Phil Furey, 35, of Los Angeles, directed the documentary "Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103" which premieres Saturday, April 2, at the Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City.
Daniel and Susan Cohen, of Middle Township, seen in July 2007, lost their daughter, Theodora, in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
Susan Cohen, of Cape May Court House, pauses for a moment from fielding phone calls Thursday from major news outlets regarding the release from prison of Abdel Baset al-Magrahi, the person responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, that killed their only daughter Theodora.
Susan Cohen, of Middle Township, takes phone calls from the media in 2009 upon the release from prison of convicted bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people, including her only daughter, Theodora.
Susan Cohen, of Middle Township, who lost her 20-year-old
daughter Theodora the day Pan Am Flight 103 exploded Dec. 21, 1988,
over Lockerbie, Scotland, gives an interview to the media about her
view on the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Theodora Cohen was killed Dec. 21, 1988, in the bombing of Pan
Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
A police officer walks in front of the nose of downed Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up in mid-air over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 killing 270 people.
The mangled fuselage of Pan Am Flight 103 is pieced together as part of the investigation into the 1988 bombing that killed 270 people .
Debris from the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 made a crater in the Sherwood Crescent neighborhood of Lockerbie. Several homes were destroyed in the resulting fire. Eleven residents were killed.
A collage of victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
A man's shadow is seen on the memorial to those killed in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland, August 20, 2009. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the former Libyan agent jailed for life for the bombing that killed 270 people, flew home on Thursday after Scottish authorities released him on compassionate grounds because he is dying of cancer. Megrahi, 57, is the only person convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up in mid-air above the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21, 1988. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis (BRITAIN CRIME LAW POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A still from the new documentary "Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," which examines the 1988 terror attack that killed 270 people in Lockerbie, Scotland. Lockerbie resident Ed McGarr holds pieces of the plane's fuselage he found in his yard nearly 30 years after the disaster.
A still from the new documentary "Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103," which examines the 1988 terror attack that killed 270 people in Lockerbie, Scotland. Here a villager holds pieces of wreckage he found in his yard nearly 30 years after the plane's debris rained down on Lockerbie.
Police comb the fields surrounding Lockerbie, Scotland, searching for evidence after the 1988 bombing.
Artist Suse Lowenstein poses with her sculpture Dark Elegy depicting the harrowing moment when family members learned of the bombing. Her son, Alexander, was among the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Artist Suse Lowenstein created Dark Elegy, a sculpture depicting the harrowing moment when family members learned of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Her son, Alexander, was among the victims.
Alexander Lowenstein, 21, was an English major at Syracuse University when he was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. He was among several Syracuse students flying home for the holidays after studying abroad.
Suse Lowenstein's sculpture Dark Elegy captures the moment when parents and other relatives learned of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Suse Lowenstein works in her Montauk, N.Y., art studio. Her son, Alexander, 21, was killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
Peter and Suse Lowenstein, of Montauk, N.Y., lost their son, Alexander, in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Aphrodite and Peter Tsairis, of Bloomingdale, N.J., sit among photos of their daughter, Alexia, an aspiring photographer who was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis attend a photo exhibition in honor of their late daughter, Alexia, who was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Aphrodite and Peter Tsairis, of Bloomingdale, N.J., review photographs for an exhibition. They started a foundation for struggling artists in honor of their late daughter, Alexia, an aspiring photographer who was among the 270 victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.
Alexia Tsairis, 20, of Bloomingdale, N.J., a student at Syracuse University, was an aspiring photographer who died with 269 other victims in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Daniel and Susan Cohen, of Middle Township, hold a photo of their only daughter, Theodora, who was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in this undated file photo.
Theodora "Theo" Cohen, 20, was a drama and music major at Syracuse University. She was returning from a semester studying in England in 1988 when she and 269 other people were killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
A panel of Scottish judges uphold the conviction of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in 2002 in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
A still from the documentary feature "Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103" which profiles families of the 1988 bombing including Aphrodite Tsairis.
Convicted Libyan bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi boards a plane home to Libya in 2009 after his early release on medical-mercy grounds. He lived a free man for three years.
Families of the victims of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 protest a 2009 speech by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at the United Nations in New York.
Suse Lowenstein, of Montauk, N.Y., attends a protest in 2009 of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the United Nations.
A Forensic Explosives Laboratory photograph shows a baggage container carried aboard the Pan Am airliner that exploded above the Scottish village of Lockerbie in December 1988. Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, one of two Libyans accused of murdering 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing, was found guilty after a nine month trial on January 31, 2001. WAW/AS
Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, left, and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were indicted in 1991 in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2008. The meeting and others by the British government outraged the victims' families in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) shakes hands with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi near Gaddafi's home town of Sirte May 29, 2007. Blair held talks with Gaddafi in a tent in the Libyan desert on Tuesday as BP sealed a big energy deal with Tripoli in a boost to the West's ties with the once-isolated African state. REUTERS/Leon Neal/Pool (LIBYA) - RTR1Q89J
The late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in an undated photo.
Convicted bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is interviewed in 2011 two years after winning early release from Scottish authorities for medical-mercy reasons.
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.
CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE _ A Hand Avenue couple whose 20-year-old daughter was killed in the ter…
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.”