Our Frank

On the night of December 21st, 1988, a bomb exploded on board New York-bound Pan Am Flight 103 and ripped the aircraft apart, its wreckage then raining down on the sleepy Scottish town of Lockerbie below. All 259 passengers and crew perished, as did 11 local residents. One of the passengers, 45-year-old Frank Ciulla (pictured above), had been travelling home to his wife and three children in New Jersey for the Christmas holidays—his body was discovered on Margaret and Hugh Connell’s small farm in Waterbeck, nearly 8 miles from the main crash site.

Almost four years later, the Ciulla family finally found the strength to visit Scotland. They went to Minsca farm and stayed with the Connells; they saw the quiet spot where their father and husband came to rest, far away from the chaotic scenes in Lockerbie; and they asked all of the questions they had been desperate to ask since getting the news. After the visit, the Connells wrote the following letter to the Ciullas. It was cherished and read aloud on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, as the Lockerbie Cairn was dedicated in Arlington. The two families remain close.

(Heartfelt thanks to both families for allowing me to feature this in the Letters of Note book, and to Frank’s son in particular for being so helpful. To hear him discussing and reading this letter, visit NPR.)

My Dears Lou, Mary Lou and family,

I can hardly believe that I am writing to you. This is something that I had longed to do since 21st December, 1988. When your dear one came to us from the night, it was so unbelievable, haunting and desperately sad. You said 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 a 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 that you’d come and not want to get in touch. I was so thankful that you made the effort to come and ask all the questions you had always wanted to ask. You had at last found someone who could fill in those last hours, that piece 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 feelings seeing him there, a whole-bodied handsome man, the life gone out of him in a twinkling. We were just past 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