US scholarship is a symbol of hope for sixth-form students

Among the 259 people to fall out of the Scottish night sky on 21 December 1988 when the bomb exploded on Pan Am flight 103 were 35 students from New York's Syracuse University. Most had been studying at universities in London and were flying back home to their loved ones for Christmas.

Determined to find hope amid the destruction, in 1989 the American university set up a "remembrance scholarship" programme for students from the Lockerbie Academy, allowing two sixth-year pupils to spend a year studying in the US. Since then more than 35 pupils have travelled to study there from a town with a population of little more than 4,000.

Erin McLaughlin, from Moffat, 15 miles from Lockerbie, originally went to Syracuse on a nine-month scholarship programme but remained and five years later she is studying at New York University.

She said: "I went to Syracuse as a Lockerbie scholar in 2003 but I stayed on, which no other student had done before, because I loved it so much. I am always proud to say I'm from Scotland – and Lockerbie especially – I like being an ambassador for it. "

Adam Brooks, 20, a Syracuse scholar from 2006 to 2007, said the experience changed his life: "Syracuse was undoubtedly the best time of my life. I had an absolutely brilliant time. The experience of seeing these places shapes you and the principal benefit of the scholarship was that it broadened my horizons."

But Adam, who is now studying law at Aberdeen, said the fact he had benefited from the tragedy still plays on his conscience. He said: "I thought about it quite a bit when I was over there and I have done subsequently – the fact that I benefited from something bad happening. We would take back our scholarships to bring back lives, but we can't and you've got to use the good that comes from it."

He said the remembrance service yesterday was especially moving for him since his scholarship at Syracuse. "I've lived in Lockerbie all my life, I didn't lose anyone. But meeting the families of victims when I was in Syracuse brought it home to me," he said.

Because so many of the victims in the Lockerbie bombing were American citizens – prior to September 11 it was the single most deadly attack on US civilians – services were also held yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery and at Syracuse University. Relatives and some former employees of the Pan Am airline also attended a private memorial at Heathrow airport chapel, led by the Rev John Mosey, whose daughter Helga died in the disaster.

Graham Herbert, the Lockerbie Academy's current rector, explained the link: "That night, the souls of our two communities were literally torn apart – this was the biggest mass murder in UK history. However, over the years the bonds, friendships and collective feelings have brought an empathy, sense of morality and shared values between us that I believe is unique. We have over this time developed a common soul; a soul born out of grief, compassion and mutual understanding."

Two years ago the scholarship reached a remarkable milestone: for the first time ever neither of the two local students who went abroad that year were even alive at the time of the crash. This year's scholars, Kirsty Liddon and Laura Flynn, are also from the post-disaster generation of Lockerbie children. Laren Flynn and Kirsty Liddon, the two current scholars, flew back on Saturday to attend yesterday's wreath-laying commeration.

"It was fantastic to see them," said Mr Herbert. "They've come back with American accents – these wee Scottish lasses are suddenly going around saying 'Hey, how ya' doin'?' It's hilarious."

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