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  • USA TODAY, MAY 2000

    A mother's day of sorrow at Lockerbie For Elizabeth Philipps, visits to the site of the crash -- and being at the trial of the suspects -- are about remembering 

    By David J. Lynch

    LOCKERBIE, Scotland -- They found her face down in the Scottish turf, still strapped into seat 21F.

    Sarah Philipps, 20, a Syracuse University student who had just completed a semester abroad, was flying home to her family four days before Christmas 1988 when a bomb detonated in the cargo bay of Pan Am Flight 103.

    This Mother's Day weekend, her mother, Elizabeth Philipps, has come to where Sarah's body was found, reprising a ritual she has performed at least annually since the disaster. In the middle of a farmer's pasture, a simple pile of stones assembled by Sarah's parents as a gesture of love and remembrance marks the spot.

    The mother takes comfort from these visits, walking more than a mile across broken ground past black-faced sheep to find the rocky memorial, called a cairn. Over the years, she and her husband, Ervin, have made many friends in Lockerbie (he's home in Boston this time). And she finds solace in the beauty of the rugged landscape, which is crisscrossed by weathered stone walls. Even though Sarah's body isn't here, to Elizabeth the spot has the feel of a final resting place.

    ''It's not the kind of thing a parent likes to do, though, tend a grave,'' she says.

    This time, Elizabeth's Lockerbie visit also is a welcome respite from the trial of the two men accused of planting the bomb that killed her daughter. For the past 10 days, she has been among about 30 American victims' relatives attending the trial of the two alleged Libyan intelligence agents.

    The long-awaited trial, being held on a former air base in the Netherlands after years of diplomatic negotiations over where and how it would be conducted, is expected to last a year. But already, Americans seem more interested in the stock market's gyrations or even the presidential race than in the prosecution of the men accused of killing Pan Am Flight 103's 259 passengers and crew and 11 others on the ground.

    Elizabeth's attendance at the trial and her visit here are about remembering.

    She doesn't want her daughter, a vivacious young woman who made friends easily and loved skiing and field hockey, to fade into the past with all the other anonymous victims of all the other forgotten tragedies.

    A stolen future

    On Aug. 15, Sarah would have been 32 years old.

     Just before her death, the young woman and her mother spoke by phone. Sarah had just taken a bus trip from London to Edinburgh and was enthralled with Scotland. ''Mommy, I love Scotland. You must promise me you'll travel here with me,'' Sarah said to her mother.

    Instead, the tragedy ''stole her future from us,'' her mother says. Elizabeth's thoughts this weekend are of the wedding that won't happen, the grandchildren left unborn, the trip to Scotland they will never take.

    When the Boeing 747 exploded 6 miles above the Earth, human and material wreckage fell across hundreds of miles of Scottish countryside. Sarah's body lay for two days in the cold and damp of a shallow hillside depression known as Powhaffet before searchers found her. It was another two weeks before her identity was confirmed and her grieving parents in Boston were informed that their daughter's body had been found.

    ''They had to do it by dental records. There was nothing that was recognizable as Sarah,'' her mother says.

    Walking across the field, keeping watch for an ill-tempered bull roaming nearby, Elizabeth remembers a dream she had before Sarah was born. In the dream, Elizabeth, who has two sons, was weeping over a baby girl. She doesn't believe in omens, she says. Even now, it's unclear whether those were tears of joy or foreboding.

    Sarah's ashes are buried beneath a simple plaque in the ''garden of remembrance,'' a memorial to the bombing victims in nearby Dumfries.

    ''Sarah Susannah Buchanan Philipps . . . Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day'' reads the Shakespearean inscription. 

    Shared grief

    The garden is a reminder that the Philipps family is not alone in its grief. A row of three plaques commemorates the lives of Tom Flannigan, 44; his wife, Kate, 41; and their daughter Jo, 10. They were killed instantly when a portion of the crippled jet obliterated their home.

    Their sons, David and Stephen, were not at home and so escaped death. But a few yards from his parents' names is David Flannigan's headstone. David, 19 at the time of the bombing and already troubled, struggled for five more years before drugs and depression made worse by his family's loss killed him.

    There's a small crowd of visitors to the garden this day. Mostly older people, they stare at name after name, shaking their heads and making small clucking noises at the senselessness of it all.

    Almost 10 miles away is the spot where Sarah was found, which Elizabeth and her husband first saw in 1989. Returning there now, Elizabeth, 60, turns to the business of tending her daughter's informal memorial. Sheep sheltering from the wind have knocked many of the cairn's stones loose. So Elizabeth, in khakis and a gray blazer, replaces them and adds a few new ones, which she has collected on the walk.

    Pulling orange-handled shears from her coat pocket, she trims the rushes nearby. Her muted sniffling and the joyous song of a lark fluttering overhead are the only sounds.

    ''You'd think this would be taller for all the years we've been coming here, but we can't keep ahead of the sheep,'' she says with a sad smile.

    Learning to heal

    From the outset, Elizabeth has tried to learn everything she could about Sarah's final moments, trying to salve her grief with knowledge. ''I wanted to go as far with Sarah on this as possible,'' she says.

    After the disaster, she insisted on looking at the police photographs of her daughter's battered remains. Only Sarah's eyebrows told her she was looking at her little girl.

    The past 10 days, she has sat in a foreign courtroom listening to sometimes graphic testimony about the bombing that took Sarah from her.

    Soon, she will return to the Netherlands, where the trial at Camp Zeist has been adjourned until May 23. But this day, in a lovely and isolated place, for just a few moments she is with Sarah again. 

    The date of the disaster is outlined in white paint on a small rock along with Sarah's initials and those of her friend Julianne Kelly, who was seated, and ultimately found, alongside her.

    ''It's nicer than a graveyard,'' Elizabeth says, looking across the marshy field toward the Scottish hills.

    And as she tidies up the spot where her daughter finished life's journey, high overheard, the rumble of a jet aircraft splits the afternoon's calm. 

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