A `Family' of Strangers Kin of plane victims recall 10 with one desire: to get home to LIThis story was reported by Elizabeth Wasserman, Dan Fagin, William Bunch, Kinsey Wilson and Jenny Abdo. It was written by Bunch.
In some ways, they were 10 people with little in common. Most were business executives or entreprenuers; one worked as an airline porter and another was a college student. They embraced a variety of religions, and several were born overseas. Aside from a father and son, they didn't know each other.
But the 10 were bound together by one thing: their desire to get home to Long Island, where they were looking forward to holiday feasts and seasonal celebrations with families and friends - a desire that caused each one to board New-York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 in London last Wednesday.
It was a holiday hope dashed in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, where the Boeing 747 crashed, killing all 258 passengers and crew and at least 11 villagers. In scenes repeated across Long Island this Christmas weekend, some family and friends of the 10 local victims did come together - but for tearful memorial services.
In other Long Island homes, families held off on plans for services until they can get word on when their loved ones' bodies will be returned to the United States.
"There's nothing to be done, I guess," said Judy Dein of Annapolis, Md., one of 600 who gathered to remember William Chase Leyrer Jr. yesterday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bay Shore. "If there was a bomb, there's no sense trying to retaliate against a crazy person. And if it wasn't a bomb, there's nothing to retaliate against."
Leyrer, a shipping executive, was a regular on Pan Am Flight 103. He frequently stopped in London en route to Africa and other Third World destinations, where he helped coordinate distribution of food supplies for the United Nations. Leyrer, 46, boarded Flight 103 last Wednesday for what had become a routine trip home to his wife and two children. "He was a professional, and was obviously committed to good causes," said Lee Piovano, who worked with Leyrer at Universal Transcontinental Corp. of Manhattan.
Leyrer grew up in Bay Shore and attended Syracuse University. He owned his own shipping brokerage, Translog Inc., for many years before recently joining Universal Transcontinental, which counts the United Nations among its clients. "I'm wondering what terrorists think they can gain from this," said Suzanne Walling of Bay Shore as she walked out of the crowded church. "And I'm wondering what it's going to take to bring peace."
At a memorial service yesterday for Fordham University student Mark Tobin, 21, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead, 14 priests were among the estimated 1,000 friends and relatives attending. When one speaker said he wished the plane hadn't crashed so close to Christmas, Tobin's younger brother, Daniel Tobin, 19, got upset. "I felt like running up to the altar and saying, `No, you're totally wrong,' " the younger Tobin said later. "Thank God it happened at Christmas so everybody could be here."
After the service, many went to the Tobin family home in Hempstead and ate fresh ham and turkey and picked from the dozens and dozens of cookies sent over by the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale, where Mark Tobin worked as a lifeguard during summers and on breaks from his studies.
Tobin had planned to work at the hotel on Christmas Eve and on New Year's Eve, so that his sister, Patricia, and her husband, Howard Adelman, could stay at the hotel for free when they came in from Illinois. Tobin's parents last saw him when they flew across the Atlantic themselves and visited with him in November.
His three brothers and three sisters had received letters all semester. "He wrote that he was having such a great time and that he would tell us all about it when he came back for Christmas," Daniel Tobin said. "It's too bad he'll never finish those stories." On Christmas Eve, the family of John Michael Gerard Ahern, 26, of Rockville Centre gathered for mass at St. Agnes Cathedral, where Ahern had been an altar boy 15 years ago.
"It's a terrible, terrible blow," said the Rev. Donald Hanson, who presided over the mass, "but I think it's a close-knit family and a lot of people have gathered around them. Ahern usually flew on British Airways. But last week, the 26-year-old London-based bond broker was in a rush to come home to Long Island, where he had a busy week planned. First, there would be Christmas with his parents at their Rockville Centre home. Then, a ski trip with friends to Mt. Snow in Vermont. And finally, on Dec. 30, the christening of his newborn nephew, Christopher. John Ahern was to be the child's godfather. So Ahern took the earliest available flight from London: Pan Am Flight 103. Ahern had spent the past two years working in London as a government bond broker for Fundamental Brokers Inc., a New York-based firm. He had recently purchased a flat in the Courtfield Gardens section and was an enthusiastic sportsman, taking frequent golfing trips to Scotland and ski trips to the Alps.
While some gathered for services, others remained in their homes surrounded by the trappings of a holiday celebration that would never take place. At the Scott household in Huntington yesterday, the gifts were still fully wrapped and spread out under the Christmas tree.
Sally Scott, 22, had died in the crash and no one wanted to open presents. "She was happy. She was a happy person. She was a lovely person," said her mother, Shirley. "She was always a leader. If anything was going to be organized, a party or get-together, she was the one on the phone putting it all together." It was Sally's knack of organizing parties and being able to whip up an exotic meal - from salads with wildflowers to a mean pineapple sorbet - that sent her to London in July. She was starting a catering business there in the stock exchange district. She named it "For Starters." "She had a good future ahead of her," her mother said.
On Christmas Day, the friends Scott had planned to see for holiday dinner on Long Island arrived and, instead of celebrating, cried with her mother and father. Her Christmas stocking still hung over the fireplace. Her brother, Tim, boarded a flight to England, carrying his sister's dental records to help authorities identify Sally's body. Once they do, the Scotts will schedule a funeral service in the town where she was born.
On Wednesday, Chris Papadopoulos had picked up a pay phone at London's Heathrow Airport to call his wife Judi, back in Woodmere. "It's last call," Papadopoulos said. "I'm getting on the plane now." It would the last time that Papadopoulos' wife would hear his voice.
Papadopoulos, 45, of Cedarhurst, was a native of Greece who immigrated to the United States about 25 years ago. Papadopoulos was headed home from a week-and-a-half-long business trip to Europe. His sister-in-law, Sandi Gewanter, said Papadopoulos had been to Yugoslavia and stopped in London to meet with a business associate.
Andre Guevorguian, 32, of Sea Cliff, a senior oil trader for Clarendon Ltd., was returning from a European business trip when he boarded the doomed flight.
Guevorguian, who attended the prestigious Choate School on a scholarship and was graduated from Harvard University with honors, specialized in Soviet-American trade and worked for various import-export firms before returning to the Harvard Business School, where he was graduated in 1983. He then returned to the world of international trade and worked for several years at Bankers Trust Co. before joining Clarendon. Born in Paris, Guevorguian came to the United States with his father, an Armenian, and his mother Tatiana, a Russian, in the late 1950s. He was active in Sea Cliff with the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian-American Professional Club, and most recently he worked with various charities involved in the Armenian earthquake tragedy.
The Mulroy family of East Northport lost several relatives aboard the downed jetliner . John Mulroy, 59, the director of international communications for The Associated Press, had traveled to England to pick up his son Sean, 25, a Long Island resident until he moved abroad several months ago, his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Ingrid, and three other family members to bring them back to Long Island for a holiday meal. Sean Mulroy, who studied political science at the state University of New York at Stony Brook, was the coach of the women's rugby team. He also was a member of the men's team for the university. He met his wife, Elizabeth Ingrid, a native of Sweden, several years ago when they worked at the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley. Elizabeth eventually returned to Sweden and she and Mulroy were married there six months ago.
Joseph Miller, 56, a senior partner in the Manhattan accounting firm Miller-Ellin and Co. and a vigorously active member of the Jewish community in the Five Towns area and nationwide, was due to return from a one-day business trip to London. "Everything he did was filled with energy," said Rabbi Heshie Billet, who was close to Miller. "He was a dynamo. He had boundless energy." The Woodmere resident - married with four children and a grandchild - was a former president of the Young Israel congregation, a trustee of the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns, and an executive board member of the South Shore United Jewish Appeal Campaigm, among numerous charitable and religious posts. He was a founding member of the board of directors of Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women and had served as treasurer of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
Billet said yesterday that the Miller family "is somewhat frustrated by the slowness of the process in getting the bodies released so that we could have a proper service."
Family members said Gabriel Della Ripa, 46, of Floral Park, a porter for Pan Am, flew back to Italy for a two-week vacation and visited his 83-year-old mother Carmella there. Family members had expected Della Ripa to return on Wednesday afternoon to his porter's job, but when he didn't return they began fearing the worst. He and his wife, Luisa, had moved to Floral Park about two years ago from Ozone Park and had two teenage daughters.
**** The 10 From Long Island
Gabriel Della Ripa, 46, of Floral Park, a porter for Pan American Airlines, was flying back from a vacation in Italy, where he had visited his mother.
John Michael Gerard Ahern, 26, of Rockville Centre, a London-based bond broker, was flying home to spend Christmas with his family. He was single.
Chris Papadopoulos, 45, of Lawrence, a shoe-buying agent who had his own company in Lindenhurst, was returning home from a business trip.
Mark Tobin, 21, of West Hempstead, was one of the students in Syracuse University's foreign-study program. He was on leave from Fordham University in the Bronx.
Sally Scott, 22, of Huntington, had been establishing a catering business in England.
Joseph Miller, 56, of Woodmere, a senior partner at a Manhattan accounting firm, had been on a business trip. He also was treasurer of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
John Mulroy, 59, of East Northport, director of international communications for the Associated Press, was returning from Europe for a family reunion.
Sean Mulroy, John Mulroy's 25-year-old son, grew up in East Northport and lived in Britain.
William Chase Leyrer Jr., 46, of Bay Shore, a shipping executive responsible for sending UN food supplies all over the world, was returning from a business trip.
Andre Guevorguian, 32, of Sea Cliff, an oil trader with a commodities
firm, was returning from a business trip. He was involved in Armenian earthquake
This story was reported by Elizabeth Wasserman, Dan Fagin,
William Bunch, Kinsey Wilson, Jenny Abdo, A `Family' of Strangers Kin of
plane victims recall 10 with one desire: to get home to LI., 12-27-1988,