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Still missed, still loved: a town pays tribute to victims 25 years after the tragedy

TO the sound of a piper's lament, family, friends and Government officials came forward one by one to pay their tributes yesterday to the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, after 25 years still the worst terrorist atrocity in British history.

By the end of the half-hour ceremony more than a dozen wreaths had been carefully placed at the foot of the memorial wall in the town's Dryfesdale Cemetery, which lists the names of all 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Dumfriesshire town 25 years ago.

One floral tribute summed it up simply, with a handwritten message: "Remembering all those loved ones. Still missed, still loved."

Huddled together under grey skies, family and friends of the victims heard that their loved one would "never be forgotten".

Around 300 people attended the ceremony, including First Minister Alex Salmond, Lord Wallace, Advocate General for Scotland, and official representatives from the US Government.

However, as the anniversary was marked, locals from Lockerbie emphasised the town was also keen to look forward, with suggestions that the next significant anniversary to be marked in such a high-profile way will be the 50th.

Among those attending the event was Jane Schultz, from Pennsylvania, whose 20-year-old son Thomas was among the victims.

She said: "It's very sad but it is a very important anniversary and I would not want to be anywhere else. To be here in Lockerbie to honour my son, to pay respect to him - I had the privilege of standing right where he took his last breath the other day. As a mother that meant a lot."

As well as honouring the memory of her son, Schultz said she also wanted to pay tribute to the people of Lockerbie for their "love and support" over the past 25 years.

"I think I speak for every family who had someone on the plane when I say that they really helped us through the disaster," she said.

"They may never know, but what they gave to us in love and support and kindness just meant so much.

"Had the plane been on course it would have gone down over the Irish Sea and we would have had nothing."

The close links between the town and the American relatives of those who died in the disaster were also emphasised by Frank Klein, from New Jersey, who lost his 35-year-old daughter Patricia on the flight.

Speaking at a gathering at Lockerbie Academy ahead of the ceremony he told how he had to make the difficult decision to leave his daughter's remains in Lockerbie, rather than bring her back to America.

But he said it had given him an excuse to come back and visit the town many times.

"I can't really express in words how I feel about Lockerbie," he said. "It is my second home now and I just love coming here."

Reverend John Macleod, of All Saints Episcopal Church in Lockerbie, told those who gathered in Dryfesdale Cemetery at the Lockerbie memorial and Garden of Remembrance, that the victims would never be forgotten.

He said: "We come together to remember this dreadful event and to offer our support by this act to the families who still mourn, to those who lost their peace of mind in those days working in the tragic aftermath.

"And especially we come together today to remember the people whose names are carved on the memorials around us, where they will always be and they will never be forgotten."

He added: "We pray that this anniversary and our acts of remembrance which we share today may help to bring a revival and a refreshment to those lives which still suffer with loss."

Craig Lynes, from the US Transportation Security Administration, who was representing the American Government, spoke of families and friends of the victims who "bear the heaviest of hearts".

He said: "While our words can do little to repair the damage caused by this act of terrorism, we offer them with hope.

"We offer these words as a tribute to the 270 lives that were cut short that evening, we offer them as a way to help carry their lives forward as we continue living ours."

Lynes also referred to attempted terrorist attacks targeting civil aviation and transportation in recent years.

But he said: "Collaboration with our international partners enables us to stay one step ahead of those who are determined to destroy our way of life."

He added: "We have seen changes great and small throughout the world in the years since December 21st 1988.

"It is with pride that we declare once again our unshakeable commitment to continue the fight against terrorism. We owe that to each of you."

More than a dozen wreaths were laid after the half-hour ceremony, with tributes from First Minister Alex Salmond, Dumfries Lord Lieutenant Jean Tulloch, representing the Queen, Police Scotland and Syracuse University in New York, which lost 35 students in the bombing.

One wreath was from "the young people of Lockerbie" while another floral tribute, in the shape of a plane, from Los Angeles stewardesses bore the message "forever in our hearts and minds".

While locals acknowledge Lockerbie will forever be associated with the UK's deadliest terrorist attack, they are also keen to focus on the future.

Looking forward was a key theme of the church service yesterday evening at Dryfesdale Church, led by students from Syracuse University.

Ken Bailey, chair of the organising committee for the 25th anniversary memorial, said the feeling in the town around the anniversary was that it was "quite difficult".

He said: "The townspeople really want to try and play this down as much as they can, they want it low-key.

"There is some speculation now that the next anniversary might be the 50th one - it is only speculation, as a lot depends on other factors, such as how they feel in the States.

"For some people the anniversary opens wounds again - you get the healing process going and then all the memories come flooding back."

Graham Herbert, rector of Lockerbie Academy, who will be retiring next month, said the 25th anniversary was recognised as a milestone.

But he added: "Every time an anniversary such as this comes up it just brings it all back for some people and it is as though it was yesterday. So there is a real feeling of maybe leave us alone until the 50th anniversary."

Following the wreath-laying ceremony Salmond said: "Out of disaster, there are the bonds of friendship.

"Lockerbie has been a welcoming place for the relatives of those who died, and over the last 25 years has taken as good care of people as it possibly could.

"I don't think you ever move on, you certainly never forget, but people do rebuild their lives and many have."

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