NEW YORK -- Deep grief has turned to anger and bitterness for many families of the dead from Pan American World Airways Flight 103, the 747 that exploded over Scotland in December.
Frustrated by what they see as official inaction and incompetence, nearly 500 relatives have banded together in a group calling itself Victims of Pan Am 103.
The group has held rallies, lobbied Congress, pored over federal documents and peppered agency officials with letters. In the six months since the crash, Victims of Pan Am 103 has made itself into a public force.
Their efforts, members say, are fueled by the federal government's indifference and deception. "Our group has grown strong because of this," said founder Paul Hudson of Albany, N.Y., whose 16-year-old daughter, Melina, was killed.
In the process, many in the group have lost the admiration they once had for their leaders.
"We've learned how to be lied to," said Stan Maslowski, whose 30-year-old daughter, Diane, died in the crash. "We've learned that they speak out of both sides of their mouths. It's a shame, because I looked up to these people."
"They're doing nothing," said Florence Bissett, who lost her 21-year-old son, Kenneth. "They must be hiding something. They have to be hiding something."
Officials from the White House, State Department and Transportation Department have defended their actions as proper, prudent and responsive.
Few from the group are convinced. "It's like dealing with the enemy," said Hudson's wife, Eleanor.
Many family members say their problems with the government began soon after Pan Am 103 exploded Dec. 21, killing all 259 people aboard, and have continued since.
Those who went to the site of the crash in Lockerbie, Scotland, soon after it happened found a vacuum of information and no one from the State Department to assist them, they said. Those who stayed in the United States fared little better.
Vicky Cummock of Coral Gables, Fla., sought any available details -- such as time of the crash, place, cause and passenger list -- from the State Department by phone. Her husband, John, had been aboard the flight. She encountered only recorded messages or indifference, she said.
"I've got a 3-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old," she said. "Their dad's just been blown out of the sky, I'm in shock and everybody (at the State Department) is like, 'Hey, it's not my job.' "
Later, she called the department to inquire about claiming her husband's body. "They said I needed a form," she said. "I asked them for a form. They said, 'We don't have a form.' "
Frances Jones, a spokeswoman for the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, said the agency did the best it could under the circumstances. "There was a tremendous desire to help them," she said.
The department has since undertaken a review of its procedures in such cases. But family members are not satisfied -- the official in charge of the review is the same one who was overseeing the Lockerbie response.
Days after the crash, family members learned through news reports that State Department employees stationed in West Germany, where the flight originated, had been privy to warnings of a possible terrorist action against a U.S. airline.
The State Department has refused to acknowledge it, but some department employees are thought to have canceled their Pan Am reservations as a result of the warning.
As is standard procedure, private citizens were not told. The revelation enraged family members.
"I think it's just awful," said Ms. Bissett, of Hartsdale, N.Y. "Those 259 people should have been here today."
"Had there ever been any inkling of a threat, my daughter never would have taken that plane," Eleanor Hudson said.
Pieces of the Pan Am 747 rained to earth after the detonation of a plastic explosive, hidden in a portable radio-cassette player in its luggage bin.
No official announcements have been made regarding suspects, but speculation has centered on Syrian terrorist Ahmed Jibril. His group, known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, was allegedly hired to avenge the downing of an Iranian jetliner over the Persian Gulf last summer by the USS Vincennes.
On Sunday, a London newspaper reported that U.S. intelligence officials have identified four terrorists, members of the Popular Front, who were allegedly responsible for planting the bomb, according to The Associated Press. The weekly Sunday Telegraph quoted unidentified officials as saying the key figure in the attack was Hafez Kassem el-Dalkamuni, a 43-year-old Palestinian.
The FBI is pursuing a criminal investigation of the Pan Am crash. But relatives of the victims have repeatedly called for an independent, congressionally required investigation.
In early April, representatives of Victims of Pan Am 103 met with President Bush to tell him of their complaints with the State Department and of their desire for an independent investigation.
They asked that terrorist alerts be made known to the general flying public. They also stressed the need for tighter airport security, including the installation of luggage examination devices known as thermal neutron analysis machines.
The devices can detect plastic explosives, which X-rays, the current method of examining luggage, cannot.
The family members emerged hopeful from the White House meeting. President Bush had listened to them, they said, and promised action where warranted.
But late last month Hudson wrote in a letter to Bush: "I am writing out of frustration and a growing sense of foreboding to tell you that all those hopes have been badly battered, if not completely dashed, since our meeting."
Although the Federal Aviation Administration has talked of better airport security, proposed measures are still working their way through bureaucratic procedures.
Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner has characterized the FAA's efforts as full-tilt: "All resources are being exerted."
But to Hudson, a real estate lawyer, it is "propaganda and disinformation."
Meanwhile, Skinner has announced his opposition to making terrorist alerts public, in part because it might allow false alarms to bring air traffic to a crawl.
And the Bush administration opposes any independent investigation of the crash, saying the FBI inquiry is sufficient.
Many family members have said they think that the government will be powerless to retaliate if it determines the perpetrators to its satisfaction.
One man whose wife died in the crash recently wrote other victims' relatives, urging them to pool their insurance settlements to pay for a private hit man and extract their own revenge.
The fund has reportedly grown to several million dollars. Although it is not a function of Victims of Pan Am 103, some members embrace the idea.
"I hope it goes through," said Ms. Bissett, who visits her only child's grave nearly every day.
"I want that guy who did it," she said. "I want to put him in
a plane and blow him up like he blew up my son."