NPR logo

Out Of The Lockerbie Bombing, A Bond And A 'Letter Of Note'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/357004557/357004558" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Out Of The Lockerbie Bombing, A Bond And A 'Letter Of Note'

Arts & Life

Out Of The Lockerbie Bombing, A Bond And A 'Letter Of Note'

Out Of The Lockerbie Bombing, A Bond And A 'Letter Of Note'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/357004557/357004558" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Audie Cornish speaks with Frank Ciulla about a poignant letter cherished by his family. It was written after his father was killed in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're turning another page of the collection titled, "Letters of Note."

FRANK CIULLA: (Reading) My dears Mary Lou and family, I can hardly believe that I am writing to you. This is something that I had longed to do since 21, December, 1988. When your dear one came to us from the night.

CORNISH: That's Frank Ciulla. His father, S. Frank Ciulla, was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland. At the time Ciulla was an executive working in the U.K. for Chase Manhattan Bank. He was taking that Pan Am flight home to New Jersey for Christmas. After the bombing his body was discovered far from the crash site, on a sheep farm owned by Margaret and Hugh Connell. Ciulla's family received a letter from the Connell's after meeting them in Scotland. This was a few years after the bombing. I asked Ciulla's son what the journey was like to the Connell's farm. He recalls making the trip with his mom and younger sister.

CIULLA: We were very nervous making that long slow drive eight miles east of Lockerbie. We didn't know what to expect, what we were going to find there, but once we met the Connells and began speaking, we just were made to feel at home and you could tell that they were so happy to meet us finally and have a chance to tell us what happened that night with my father. It just became very, very comfortable very, very quickly.

CORNISH: But very, very sad I can assume.

CIULLA: It was. It was a strange mix of getting feelings, such love and warmth from the Connells and finding out the details of how my father was found. It was odd, odd as much of our time since then has been, but we came away from the meeting with such an incredible sense of, I suppose it sounds weird, relief that he was found by such loving people that watched over him and it was, you know, reflected in the letter that we received after that first visit.

CORNISH: If you can I'd like you to read the letter and tell us before you begin when this came to you.

CIULLA: It came to us a few months after that first visit in 1992 and it was our first correspondence, I believe from the Connells after our trip.(Reading) My dears Mary Lou and family, you that your visit altered the picture for you in many ways. This is just how it was for us too. Frank was a young man with an name, but connected to nobody. Now at last we can match him with a loving family. Sometimes, I would stop to think as the months went past, I wonder how his loved ones are coping now. I wonder what they are doing. We were told maybe some of the relatives would never come. We were afraid you'd come and not want to get in touch. I was so thankful that you made the effort to come and ask all of the questions you had always wanted to ask. You had at last found someone who could fill in those last hours, that peace that had always remained a mystery. It's the not knowing that can bring so much pain and bewilderment. We all have imaginations that can run riot in us and I'm sure your dear souls must have had untold agonies wondering and worrying. It was just wonderful to meet you face-to-face. We needed to talk to you all too. As you said, we will get to know Frank through you. He was never just another victim to us. For months we called him our boy. Then we found out his name, he was our Frank. Please believe me, we were deeply affected by his coming to us, we will never forget our feeling seeing him there, a whole bodied and handsome man, the life gone out of him in a twinkling. We were just passed trying to grasp the whole thing. Then to have to leave him there, but he was visited throughout the night by police and a doctor and we went back again in the morning. He was a fellow man and he had come to us in the saddest way. So now through him we have you in our hearts and please, we want you all to know that you are welcome here, whenever you come. The Connell family.

CORNISH: Frank Ciulla, reading those words now, what strikes you about the letter?

CIULLA: I suppose the rawness of the emotion at times like that, when I read over the letter. I don't often, but it brings us right back to that difficult time. It was almost four years after the crash and there was a deep need for us to heal and move on, but at the same time we wanted to know more. We didn't have a lot of information about what happened that particular night, especially with my father. So yeah, it was difficult but it was something that we needed to hear. That's why I suppose we went there in the first place, to find out more information and we found out much more than we thought we ever would.

CORNISH: Frank Ciulla, thanks so much for speaking with us and for talking about your father with us.

CIULLA: Thank you.

CORNISH: Frank Ciulla reading the letter he and his family received from the couple who found his father's body. His dad was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Ciulla says his family is still in touch with Connells and he hopes to visit them again. This letter is featured in the book "Letters of Note" edited by Shaun Usher.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.