After losing friends on Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, Seattle artistic director ‘jumped into life’
In December 1988, Annie Lareau was hoping to change her airline reservation.
Lareau, who now serves as artistic director for Seattle Public Theater, was among several students from Syracuse University drama department who had spent the semester in London.
After studying with esteemed professors in London and seeing dozens of productions, they were about to head back the U.S. for the holidays. But Lareau wasn’t scheduled to be on the same flight as her friends.
Because she had been experiencing panic attacks and was afraid to fly, her best friend and roommate, Theodora "Theo" Cohen, thought it would be a good idea for them to fly together.
But adventures in Europe had left Lareau short on cash.
“I even went to the student travel agency, tried to change my ticket to Pan Am 103. I didn't have enough money because I had spent too much,” said Lareau.
So on the morning of Dec. 21, 1988, she helped Cohen and several other friends pack and saw them into cabs as they headed for the airport. She then returned to their flat.
“They were gone and I needed to distract myself,” Lareau recalled. “I turned on the television it was the BBC and they said a plane was missing and they didn't know where it was going, but it was missing and they thought it was going to New York. And I knew instantly.”
Lareau’s friends were among the 259 passengers who died when Pan Am Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb while it flew over Lockerbie, Scotland. Eleven other people who were on the ground were killed too.
Soon after the crash, the Syracuse University London Center was swarmed by media.
“News trucks were everywhere, surrounding us,” said Lareau. “It was pretty chaotic. I was in shock, I wasn't functioning. I really wasn't crying. I wasn't doing anything yet. It was just still just such a shock.”
Lareau has spent the past 34 years processing those emotions. After graduation, she moved to Seattle.
“Four years ago when it was the 30th anniversary, I got frustrated that all the stories were about the politics of it all and the people were lost, like all these people that we loved that had vibrant lives,” said Lareau. “And so I started writing and I just didn't stop. It felt very cathartic to tell not just the story of these people, but the people of Lockerbie and my journey of grief and survival and resilience.”
Lareau says she’s worked with authors on editing her manuscript and hopes to have it published. Among the stories she tells is about her best friend, Theo, whom she met in their freshman year at Syracuse.
“It was that rare kind of friendship which I had never really experienced before, where we were connected at the hip,” Lareau said. “Everyone couldn’t imagine us separate, they always thought we were together all the time.”
This year’s anniversary of the Lockerbie crash is also distinct because it comes just a few days after Abu Agila Mohammad Mas'ud Kheir Al-Marimi made his first U.S. court appearance. He faces charges in connection with the bombing that could result in life in prison.
For those like Lareau who’ve closely followed the investigation in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the suspect’s name and the charges against him did not come as a surprise.
“You don't know if this man is ever going to really understand what he did in that moment when he put that bomb together in Malta and put it on a plane,” said Lareau. “It's both relieving to know he's been caught, but also it just opens up a lot of wounds and doesn't necessarily have a perfect way to close it back up again.”
Lareau says experiencing loss in such a public way and at such a young age altered the course of her life and her mindset. She says it forced her and her classmates to grow up quickly.
“Those of us that were left at Syracuse have done some incredible things because there's been no messing around,” said Lareau. “You don't know how long you have. So we've all really jumped into life and the lives that we wanted.”