From NIGHTLINE 21/12/1997
The Keepers part 2 Lockerbie, Scotland: Keepers of Memory and Love Dec. 19, 1997 TED KOPPEL Nine years ago, Lockerbie, Scotland, became one of the most famous datelines in the world. It became quite literally the name of a disaster. As some of you may have heard last night, Pan Am and the US State Department did not cover themselves with glory. At a time when compassion and sensitivity were called for, there wasnít much. But the people of Lockerbie reacted with a breathtaking sense of humanity. When the remains of the victims were driven through the streets, townspeople lined up to pay a silent and dignified tribute. When US authorities said that the belongings of the victims could not be returned to their families because of the possibility of contamination, the women of Lockerbie washed and ironed every single piece of clothing that could be recovered. And as the first family members of the dead made the pilgrimage to see where their loved ones had died, the men and women of Lockerbie showed themselves to be in the very best sense their brothersí keepers. (VO) There are more sheep than people in Lockerbie. A quiet Scottish market town with nearly 4,000 residents. On the darkest night of the year, December 21st, 1988, at 7, a terrorist bomb blew apart Pan Am Flight 103 in the skies over Lockerbie, killing a total of 270 people. Nine years later, a stained glass window with 21 flags representing the nations of those who perished on board Pan Am 103 sends light streaming into the town hall, which was once a mortuary. ALEX MACKELROY The tragedy of Lockerbie exposed that evil did not triumph. TED KOPPEL (VO) Close friends call Alex Mackelroy the fixer, a local official who worked quietly and steadfastly behind the scenes for years to help ease the suffering of victimsí families. ALEX MACKELROY You could take the memory and show that their death will not have been in vain. Their spirit is protected in the fields and within the community of Lockerbie and they will always be remembered. They will not just be part of folklore. Theyíre in our hearts and will always be in our hearts. While each family may have lost one or two or sometimes more, the people of Lockerbie and those who were involved in the recovery, either short or longóterm, lost 270. And we carry the burden of protecting their spirit and their memory. TED KOPPEL (VO) Some carry another burden, witnessing the savage horror that could never be shown on television. Bill Parr (ph) is a local chemist with years of experience in search and rescue work. He worked as a volunteer virtually around the clock for days with his dogs Shepp (ph) and Donna. The first night, they found 20 bodies. BILL PARR Iíll never forget faces. There were some that were obviously asleep, unconscious at the time of the impact and others that were conscious. There were looks of horror. Some were very peaceful but I can still picture faces where thereís a look of disbelief. TED KOPPEL (VO) His feelings stayed buried until Shepp died. BILL PARR The day we lost Shepp, the whole impact of a very hectic nine months hit me. But within a couple of hours of having buried him, I just had to ship myself away. Well, I was on my own anyway. I just shipped myself away and cried for hours. Itís, I didnít know you could feel that way about an animal. But he was a friend, not just an animal. I think it was grief and maybe a lot of the pent up feelings that other people had let go after the crash and Iíd held on to them. I was supposedly, you laugh at it now, but I was supposedly the leader up to 40 dog handlers. A lot of them would come to me and shed their feelings. I found somebody I could talk to from the Samaritans and that helped a lot. TED KOPPEL (VO) Nine years later, Bill Parr does not feel that what he did in Lockerbie was particularly remarkable. BILL PARR You know, Iíve never really thought well I was my brotherís keeper. My carer, maybe not keeper. I think the folk in Lockerbie quite naturally said it is unremarkable. We just did what we wanted to do, what we felt it was necessary to do. We tried to treat other people how we would like to be treated. TED KOPPEL (VO) Hugh and Margaret Connellís sheep farm is nearly eight miles from Lockerbie. It is there that the body that fell farthest from the disaster landed. HUGH CONNELL It seemed unbelievable that up here amongst all the quietness and beauty of this area that we would be amongst so much horror. The first item we come across was the mail bags and various bags of mail beside the road and then as soon as we started walking into the field there was pieces of wreckage from the interior of the plane. Seats were all around and well, I think half the luggage from the first front of the plane landed right across here and up onto the hill. Then we knew as soon as we started finding so many pieces of luggage and seats it was just a matter of time before we come on a body. When we found him, he looked so young, we thought of him as a boy, really. Maybe he looked in his 20s. We never, it never entered into our head then that he was in his 40s. He was so fresh and clean. MARGARET CONNELL He looked so young, his hair was so dark, he was so slim and we thought goodness, a young man and we immediately thought of parents somewhere, maybe even a young wife. And it was quite a few months later before we really found out his name and for a long time we just called him our boy. HUGH CONNELL Right away we seemed to love for him. He was a fellow human being and, you know, for some reason he belonged to us. We had connected with him. We had no idea who he was but yet we loved him because he was there and it was right from the start we felt a wonder what his name is, where he comes from. And we felt we would like to tell him, you know, that heís here somewhere nice. He didnít land in the midst of the wreckage or a burned up but he was lying, just lying there as if he had landed, been given to us. And we just seemed to have that love for him as soon as he arrived, as it were. (Commercial Break) TED KOPPEL (VO) Frank Chulaís body was found on Hugh and Margaret Connellís sheep farm 20 minutes after Pan Am 103 exploded over Lockerbie. He looked so young, the Connells called him our boy. But, in fact, he was 45, an executive with the Chase Bank in London, the father of three, happily married to his high school sweetheart and headed home to New Jersey for Christmas. His daughter, Laurie Chula, was 19 and remembers getting a call. LAURIE CHULA Iím not sure of the time. I think it was about three oíclock. I was due home at three thirty. My mother called me at work and my boss came over to me panic stricken saying your motherís on the phone. Somethingís wrong. I didnít think much of it. I knew my father was coming home. I just thought she was overreacting to something. And I picked up the phone and she said to me, she said there was a crash and I think it might have been your fatherís plane. So I just within, I worked about five minutes away, but it must have been 30 seconds that I was in the door. And my mother was on the floor and I just, I honestly thought she was just overreacting. There was probably something that was going on. TED KOPPEL (VO) Nevertheless, Laurie called her youngest sister Michelle at her high school. MICHELLE CHULA I walked into the office and it was my sister and she said that there was a crash and we think it was dadís plane and you need to come home. And itís so funny cause itís so vivid to me remembering that walk from that phone to the room that I was in. And I knew, I donít know how I knew this, but I knew that my life would never be the same. LAURIE CHULA We assumed my father was on the plane. My mother had his flight information, but I know for me there was a huge sense of disbelief. I mean there was, we had hundreds of people within hours in this house just walking in and out and hearing something and somehow relating to that this could be going on for us and I donít know how, but there were hundreds of people and every time the door opened Iíd just wait for my father to walk in. I just, I figured thatís what would happen. MICHELLE CHULA I pictured that night my father walking in with his, he always did the carry on, you know, never checked any bags, wanted to be in and out really quickly. And I just imagined him walking in being like what is going on? Who are all these people, you know? LAURIE CHULA Yeah. MICHELLE CHULA You know, imagining he got on an early flight or he missed the plane or he was still in London. And when my brother came home it became very real because we were all in the house and we got a phone call I believe around 3 am from ... LAURIE CHULA Heathrow Airport ... MICHELLE CHULA Was it? Or Pan Am, I guess Heathrow. LAURIE CHULA Yeah, Heathrow Airport. MICHELLE CHULA Saying he had checked in and he was on the flight. And I remember that night very vividly because we all slept in the same room. LAURIE CHULA We really, we clung to each other in a huge way and we, we were still in shock but we said to each other, we said, you know, this can tear us apart or this can bring us closer together. And we made a decision, we almost made a pact right there that this was going to bring us closer together because the alternative just was not appealing at all to us. You know, we were losing something huge but there was a lot we still had and I think immediately we recognized that. Whether we knew thatís what my father would have wanted or for whatever reason, we just, we recognized that immediately. MICHELLE CHULA You know, we had presents wrapped under the Christmas tree for my father. My mother had signed every card ďfrom mom and dadĒ and it was a very, very difficult day. And I remember just being so angry at all the other families that could go home and could pretend that this was just a story that happened in town. But this was happening to us. LAURIE CHULA I remember I returned, I felt the need to take care of things. I remember answering the phone. I remember sending pictures of my father to Scotland and medical records. I just, I needed to take charge somehow and my way was trying to deal with those details. I didnít want my mother to have to do it and I wanted to do something. And I also took on the task of returning my fatherís Christmas gifts. And I walked into that mall and I wanted to, I wanted someone to ask me why. MICHELLE CHULA The only visuals that we had were television and newspaper and despite everyoneís desire for us not to watch I did. I was curious. I mean it was as if nothing could hurt me more so I just wanted to know. Thereís a strange curiosity that takes hold. And up till my first trip to Lockerbie all I had in my mind were the flames and were the cockpit picture that is everywhere. And thatís all I knew and thatís all I had visually. And I think for myself, I tried really hard not to think about what happened to my father. LAURIE CHULA I couldnít imagine from those pictures on TV that there was much that we were going to get back, you know, physically. But I was consumed. I mean those were the nightmares. What happened? How did he get from here to there and did he feel it and did he know it? You know, where did he land? What did he look like? I wanted those details big time. MICHELLE CHULA For us, for many years Lockerbie was a place of disaster, it was a place of tragedy and a place that we didnít want to go to and that the only reason we didnít want to go there was because it was frightening. We were afraid of what we were going to find and, you know, the answers that we were going to get. And so I think for many years it wasnít even an option to go. (Commercial Break) TED KOPPEL (VO) It took the Chula family nearly four years to find the courage to go to Lockerbie. Cows turned the final miles into a comic crawl. It was not until the week before the family left for Scotland that they learned where Frank Chulaís body had fallenófar outside of Lockerbie on Minsca Farm. The day before this home video was made, more news. The Scottish couple wanted to meet them. MICHELLE CHULA The hour or two that I met them was one of the most powerful moments of my life because Margaret came out of the house and she looked at me and she said that I looked exactly like my father. And Iíve never, I will never forget that moment because it just answered so many questions. I remember taking a picture of my father out and asking Margaret is this the person that you found? Is this what he looked like? And when she told me that it was, it was one of the most amazing moments of my life because he looked like him. Minsca Farm is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life and it seemed somewhat appropriate that my father died there and it seemed somewhat, you know, just perfect that he died looking at the most beautiful land Iíve ever seen. And it took so much of the tragedy away for us. It took so much of the pain and the questions and the wondering what really happened that night. MARGARET CONNELL It just seemed unbelievable that at last these, this family was at our home, you know, and that now we could put a name to unknown faces and people that we had wanted to know about and yes, it did us all good. MICHELLE CHULA It was amazing to, I know me, and Iím sure my mother and my brother that she walked very confidently and knew exactly where it was. And that just meant so much to me that they had saved that for us. And now thereís a beautiful, beautiful tree growing there and weíve been back a couple of times since then and when stepping there and seeing where my father, you know, went out of this world was a very powerful experience for his daughter. I think, you know, to know that I know exactly where it was and it was so beautiful and it was so beautiful to share it with Margaret, who had been there that night. LAURIE CHULA Heís in a cemetery near us. I donít go there. Heís not there. When I go to this spot, I just feel my father. Itís a huge connection. Itís the only place where I feel that connection that when I actually went and we were all together, I felt like it was the first time the five of us were together since he had died. It just feels right. And meeting these people and seeing this place, it just, it feels, itís a home of sorts and itís sort of hard to explain, but itís such a powerful connection and a powerful feeling. HUGH CONNELL It seems strange that we could have so much love for someone that we never knew. It may seem strange that we shed so many tears for someone that we never met in life. And we were so glad when they come to visit us, when the family, Marylou and Frank and Michelle come, it just seemed to complete the story. We never, the story would never be complete until we met them. MICHELLE CHULA I always believed before this happened that I knew what unconditional love was. I donít think I really knew until I met Margaret and Hugh because they didnít know my father and they loved him and I felt that right away and to know that it could have been very horrible for us, we could not have had these answers and we could not have met these people and to meet them and to know, as Hugh had said, he loved my father, he was a stranger but he loved him, it just gave me so much faith about humankind, especially because of the way that the crash happened. You know, it was a terrorist act and to go from that anger and to lose all faith in what this world is all about, and it was a regaining of that faith to meet these people who took my father in. And would, I really believe that they would have taken him in their house and let him sleep inside if they could have. And to know that, itís just, that is what unconditional love is and that just brought so much faith back into my life and so much hope about the world for me into my life again. TED KOPPEL (VO) New life and friendships have emerged from the ashes and ruins of Pan Am 103. On December 21st, 1988, the world witnessed the ferocious power of hatred. But in the years that followed, few noticed the ferocious determination in the tiny town of Lockerbie to ensure that that hatred will never prevail. ALEX MACKELROY Lockerbie as a community itself did not allow evil to triumph. They looked after their brothers and sisters. They were the keepers of their brothers and sisters. They continue to keep for their brothers and sisters, to keep their memory and keep their dignity and to protect their spirit. TED KOPPEL And Iíll be back with a closing thought in a moment. (Commercial Break) TED KOPPEL The people of Lockerbie have reaffirmed the great lesson that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, which is exactly what they did. They treated the dead with dignity and respect and they asked themselves what they could do to alleviate the suffering of the families. There is, it turns out, no greater gift than a personal act of kindness and even a seemingly small act can fill a very great need. So, with their washing and ironing and planting of trees, with their many kindnesses to strangers, the people of Lockerbie have, for a number of years now, taken a dreadful act that destroyed one holiday season for so many, and restored it to what it should be, for which we all owe them a debt of thanks. Thatís our report for tonight. Iím Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.
To see the transcript of THE KEEPERS part one press here !
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