Something has happened
To keep us apart
But always and forever
You’re in my heart.

Someday soon
From now till forever
I’ll meet you again
And we’ll be together.

I’m not sure how
And I’m not sure when,
Together, Forever,
Somewhere my friend.

Karen Lee Hunt

For more information about Karen Lee Hunt, including the remarkable story behind Richard Newbegin’s “Song for Karen,” please visit Karenleehunt.org. The Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University has extensive information on Karen, the other victims, and the legacy of Pan Am 103. Visitors can also view a newly created photo gallery of images from 1988.

There was a hint of dejection in the girl’s eyes as she sat quietly in her room. It was a nondescript Labor Day evening; she would enter 8th grade that week, but Robyn Hunt’s thoughts were of the next day, the date etched in her mind since spring, the day she’d dreaded far more than the resumption of classes.

Pi Beta Phi Portrait, 1988
Karen Lee Hunt, Pi Beta Phi Portrait, 1988. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

The door opened almost silently, as a slender, dark-haired young woman with distinctive brown eyes entered the room. Sensing Robyn’s distress, Karen Hunt had come to comfort her sister.

That night’s visit was born of events set in motion nearly a year before when Karen, then a sophomore at Syracuse University, began to think of spending a semester abroad. Karen, an English major with a passion for journalism, knew that this would likely be her best opportunity to study overseas, and London, with its culture, museums, and mystique, was an especially alluring choice.

Syracuse University’s Division of International Programs Abroad was popular and competitive, and the London center was one of the school’s most desirable destinations. Karen knew that earning a chance to spend a semester in London the following fall was hardly a certainty, so she was delighted when she was accepted into the DIPA program in March.

Karen spent most of the summer working in the word processing division of a company in Syracuse to raise extra cash for her semester in London. Though she’d often come home to visit her family in Webster, Karen and Robyn knew that between the spring semester at S.U., the summer in Syracuse, and the fall in London, the sisters would spend more time apart than ever before.

Separated by 7 years and possessing markedly different personalities, Karen and Robyn nevertheless shared a deep friendship and powerful connection that helped then to weather the long absences. With their parents both working at Xerox, Karen had become almost a mother figure herself during her high school years, supporting and encouraging her younger sister as Robyn navigated the tortuous path to adolescence. The occasional and inevitable sibling squabbles did nothing to dampen their relationship. Robyn looked up to her older sister, and Karen watched over Robyn as only an older sister could.

There was nothing remarkable about this evening except for one thing: it would be Karen’s last night home until the week before Christmas. Tomorrow, the Hunts would drive to Rochester International Airport to bid Karen farewell as she took a feeder flight to JFK, where she’d catch a 747 for a transatlantic trip. The day Robyn had dreaded for months was upon them: Karen was leaving for London.

Karen Hunt with friends, December, 1988
Karen (2nd from left) poses with friends in one of the last photos before the tragedy. December, 1988. Photo Credit: Robert and Peggy Hunt.

Karen crawled onto Robyn’s bed with a tape recorder in her hand. The cassette captured her distinctive Rochesterian accent as she spoke: “The date is September 5th and tomorrow is September 6th and I’m leaving for London . . .” The recorder picked up Robyn’s protests in the background, but the elder sister continued her performance, mimicking radio reporters and adjusting the playback speed to distort her voice. Karen’s antics finally elicited a smile and a few giggles from her 13 year old sister.

It would be another long 4 months apart, but Robyn could take solace in the knowledge that Karen could finally spend several weeks with her around Christmas before returning to S.U. for the spring term.

Karen was scheduled to return home on December 21, 1988—the longest night of the year.

Similar stories have played out thousands of times before; most are lost to the joy of reunion and the passage of time, the participants giving less and less thought to the emotional intensity of a distant departure or the often unspoken fears of tragedy. This tale should have been no different.

Less than 4 months after her watched his daughter walk through a gate at Rochester International Airport, Robert Hunt sat in his living room tearfully waiting for any news about Karen. He arrived home this evening to sound of his name being paged in the airport and the awful news that Karen’s plane might have crashed. Now, he weighed the family’s need to grieve in the aftermath of an unspeakably horrific and public tragedy against his desire to share the details of his daughter’s life. The family collectively made the decision to open up to the press with Bob acting as the family’s spokesperson.

A television crew arrived to pick up a photograph of Karen, briefly interrupting a telephone interview with a reporter for the Democrat & Chronicle. Bob handed a copy of Karen’s high school senior portrait to the news crew and returned to the interview. He responded to questions with as much candor and courage as he could muster because, in his words, “This is news . . . This is something Karen would have been doing . . . And it’s important for people to know about her, too.”

Over the ensuing months and years, many of us in the Rochester area would come to view Karen Lee Hunt’s portrait as a tragic representation of all those lost in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

“She was my birthday present”

Karen Hunt, 1968.
Karen Hunt, 1968. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

Karen Lee Hunt was born with her eyes partially open on January 7, 1968, the day after Peggy Hunt’s birthday. Peggy fondly recalled that Karen “was my birthday present.” Karen was a striking child who, even as an infant, possessed the distinctive, enormous brown eyes that would become perhaps her most memorable trait; friends of the family encouraged Bob and Peggy to get their infant daughter into baby modelling.

The young couple established themselves in Webster, a large suburb northeast of the city of Rochester. Robert Hunt was a busy man, attending night classes at RIT as he established his career at Xerox while Peggy spent her days with Karen. The three would form a close knit family.

From an early age, Karen seemed to possess the gifts of perspicacity and empathy; her kindness and willingness to reach out to ostracized peers left lasting impressions. The mother of a neighborhood boy with Cerebral Palsy remembered the days when Karen would ask to play with her son, who was frequently ostracized by other children. She was equally friendly and kind during her years at the Klem Road elementary school. Shortly after the Pan Am 103 disaster, one of Karen’s classmates recalled, “I was a little chubby back in those days and nobody wanted to dance with me. I couldn’t believe that Karen came over and chose me to be her square-dancing partner. She could have chosen anyone.”

Coming of Age

Robyn Hunt was born when Karen was 7 years old. Family photographs show the pride and affection in Karen’s eyes as she held her infant sister. The sisters would grow to share a deep connection in spite of the comparatively large difference in ages.

Karen Hunt, 1972.
Karen Hunt, 1972. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

Karen spent a number of summers at Camp Stella Maris on Conesus Lake where she explored her developing spirituality and spent time wandering through the camp’s grounds. She enjoyed spending time outdoors and sleeping under the stars on the shores of the lake; she would never lose this passion for nature. Years later, Robyn would also attend Stella Maris where she would string together an anklet of pearls on a fish line as a gift for her older sister. Karen cherished the anklet and wore it for years afterward as a symbol of the deep love between the sisters. The anklet, which would eventually play an important role in the aftermath of the bombing, is clearly visible in a number of photographs on this site.

Though she was often ebullient at school, Karen was by nature a quiet and introspective child. She was drawn to writing at an early age, often spending hours composing short stories and poems in her room. As is often the case with writers, her poems and stories served as channels and outlets for her thoughts and emotions, allowing her to express her compassion in concrete forms.

Karen’s love for the written word and capacity for empathy emerged in powerful and unexpectedly far-reaching ways when her neighborhood was struck by tragedy. In the spring of 1981, a local girl was killed in a gruesome accident at the Seabreeze amusement park, a destination popular with teenagers from Rochester’s northern suburbs.

Peering out her bedroom window shortly after the tragedy, Karen spotted several of the girl’s friends walking through the neighborhood. Touched by the older girl’s death and moved by the sight of her grieving friends, Karen composed a pair of poems. One was titled “Love Lasts”:

I have lost an old, dear friend.
None of us knew she was near the end.
It isn’t fair she died that way;
Now it is for her I pray.

The tears come again and roll down my face,
For the memory of her I cannot erase.
The sorrow is deep, and will slowly pass,
But our Love for Her will always Last.

The second poem, “Somewhere My Friend,” appears at the top of this page. The latter poem, made hauntingly prescient by the events of December 21, 1988, showcased the extent of Karen’s talent at the age of 13.

Karen Hunt, Senior Prom. 1986. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.
Karen Hunt, Senior Prom. 1986. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

Active and curious, Karen took ballet lessons and played soccer during her elementary school years at Webster’s Klem Road and Spry schools. She attended Bishop Kearney during her freshman year before transferring to the R.L Thomas High School in Webster in 10th grade; she would graduate from Thomas in 1986.

It was during these years that Karen’s love of writing began to shape her future path. Karen began leaning toward a career in journalism long before she graduated from high school. Thomas’s size and resources afforded Karen the opportunity to take classes in typing, television production, and photography, and she bolstered her coursework by joining the staffs of the school’s television production club, yearbook, newspaper, and literary magazine. In an interview given shortly after the tragedy in 1988, her principal recalled Karen as an active student who “was always enthusiastic and bubbly.” He remembered her as “an unusual young woman,” because “Karen set her career goal early and took steps to pursue it.”

With both parents now working, Karen took on additional responsibilities at home, often caring for Robyn or taking care of chores around the house. She began working part-time during the school year after she turned 16; she worked full-time during the summers in her last 2 years of high school. The pressures of maintaining grades, working during the school year, making time for family, and keeping a semblance of a social life shaped Karen into an unusually independent young woman. Despite her increasingly hectic schedule, Karen was able to maintain a respectable grade point average, and her Grade 12 English teacher considered Karen to be her “writing star.”

Classmates often noted Karen’s ambition, her intelligence, her inner and physical beauty, and her talent. The boys at Webster High School considered her unobtainable because of these qualities, yet in an interview conducted shortly after her death, a classmate recalled that “Karen was really humble. I don’t think she realized how much people in school thought she was really attractive.” Her humility and approachable nature allowed her to attract and keep a large circle of friends. Several of my college friends who knew Karen from their days at R.L. Thomas were impressed by the fact that Karen made a point of being friendly to virtually everyone she met.

Karen Lee Hunt, High School Portrait, 1986
Karen Hunt during her senior year at R.L. Thomas High School. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

In the same interview, another of her friends recalled Karen’s rush to get her license. Karen was the first person in her circle of friends to earn her driver’s license, and though her lime green beater of a car became known as the “Green Bomber” for its constant smoking and backfiring, Karen reveled in her new-found independence.

Karen’s friends also remembered an incident from her junior year. Anxious to visit a friend at the University of Buffalo, Karen talked one of her closest friends into joining her for a late night trip from Rochester to Amherst minutes before the bus left, only to discover when they arrived that Karen had forgotten the slip of paper with the address and phone number. Karen’s friend laughed as she said, “She did crazy things.”

Robyn recollected that a road trip with Karen was like a visit to a dance club as a mixture of INXS, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, and other 80s pop songs filled the car’s interior. Karen’s fun-loving, witty nature was infectious and endearing, and many of her close friends appreciated her warmth and sense of humor.

Though she was adventurous and outgoing, Karen was by many accounts a quiet person at heart. If she could be gregarious and comfortable in groups, she was equally content spending time alone, and she continued to spend much of her free time putting pen to paper.

She was also a fiercely devoted friend who was willing to put the needs of others above her own. Nowhere was this more evident than in her decision to disclose a close friend’s struggle with anorexia to the young woman’s parents, who were initially incredulous at the news. Karen remained steadfast in her commitment to save her friend even at the cost of the friendship. Matters eventually worked out for the best for all involved.

Karen visited a number of colleges in her junior and senior years, often hashing out details with her parents, teachers, and principal, frequently visiting the latter to discuss her future plans. The depth and diversity of Syracuse University’s programs finally drew her to that school, and she matriculated at S.U. in the fall of 1986.

“She changed my life”

Karen and Lauren
Karen Hunt and Lauren Henry, 1986. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

Her classmates found the young woman with the Rochesterian accent to be a warm, outgoing, and sensitive companion who often consoled them during bouts of homesickness or rough patches in their lives. The transition from high school to college, particularly a large, competitive university, can be difficult; ever the counselor, Karen herself wasn’t immune to the challenges of balancing independence, academics, and a social life. Her boyfriend Mark, a member of S.U.’s gymnastics team, noted that Karen seemed to lack confidence as a freshman.

When she returned to Syracuse for her sophomore year in the fall of 1987, Karen was already in the midst of a personal renaissance, as the often shy freshman matured into a woman with a deeply-rooted need to explore the world around her. Her roommate that year commented on Karen’s transformation: “out of all of us, Karen grew up the most.”

Peers quickly learned that Karen was a keen and intuitive observer who could analyze and solve problems quickly; classmates often sought her advice, and more than a few quipped that Karen should consider psychology as a second career choice. Her roommate described her as “smart, keen,” and Karen’s mother, with whom she shared many deep conversations, remembers that her daughter, “loved to get into your head to find out what made you tick.” The latter quality served her well as an ersatz adviser for her friends. Emotive and caring, Karen once again displayed her uncanny ability to get along with virtually everyone around her.

Karen was the best. She was a genuine person. Just an all round good person. She gave the best advice. She really was honest; she took the time to help; she wanted to help; she had to help; she cared.
Joan, Karen’s Sophomore year roommate

With a new found sense of focus and drive Karen began to mull over her future. She set her sights on becoming a magazine writer with such intensity that she considered dropping out of school to start her own magazine.

Eschewing this path, Karen began to consider a less impulsive alternative. Syracuse University was famous for its focus on international studies, and Karen, who had just declared English as her major, saw a semester abroad as a perfect opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of the world—and of herself. Karen had a desire, perhaps even a need to discover who she was, and it was this drive that manifested itself in her sophomore year in the form of a series of decisions that would confound anyone who had observed her a year earlier.

Karen’s quest to push her inner boundaries began with her application to Syracuse University’s Department of International Studies Abroad in the early weeks of 1988. By the time she was accepted on March 30, Karen had pledged the newly reconstituted Pi Beta Phi. Joining a sorority was an unusual choice for a naturally introverted individual, but Karen was as comfortable around groups as she was alone. Karen would frequently join her classmates from Day Hall on their frequent pilgrimages to Bugsy’s and the other clubs on Marshall Street, after which she’d join her floor mates for hours of discussion. Many of her companions later recalled feeling lucky to have her join them for their outings and conversations.

Karen Hunt. Chicago, Spring, 1988
Karen Hunt. Chicago, Spring, 1988. This image is a color-corrected photograph of the poster that appears on the Remembrance Week, 2013 page.

It was also in the latter part of her sophomore year that Karen would leave a lasting impression on her classmates in Syracuse’s prestigious Newhouse School. Each year, students in Day Hall would present awards to the residents of each floor. Students received recognition for being, among other things, the most ambitious and most successful. Much to her chagrin, Karen failed to earn either award. Frustrated, Karen told her roommate, “I’ll just have to show everyone.”

Shortly after the floor awards, Karen began to formulate an ambitious plan for her final project in Magazine Writing—she would attempt to interview the famously inaccessible editors of Playboy Magazine, then headquartered in Chicago. Impressed by her ambition, the reclusive editors allowed Karen access to their corporate offices. Karen and her mother flew to Chicago where the understandably nervous 20-year-old finally got to interview the magazine’s staff.

The project almost failed to come to fruition when Karen, who had placed the project in a Playboy cover after pulling an all-nighter to complete the assignment, left the Day study lounge for a quick break. The project was gone when she returned to the lounge—someone, no doubt delighted at the thought of picking up a free copy of Playboy, had walked off with the assignment. Understandably panicked, Karen called her mother in the early hours of the morning. Peggy soothed her daughter, then suggested that Karen and her friends should place posters requesting that the culprit return the project, no questions asked. Someone found the assignment unceremoniously dumped in one of Day’s stairwells. Karen had avoided an academic debacle by the narrowest of margins.

Karen and her friends would eventually share a few laughs over the incident in the Day 7 study lounge, but there was no question that she was becoming a competitive and ambitious student. Her project caught the attention of he professors and classmates, and she looked forward to carrying her new-found confidence and momentum to London in the fall.

Karen Hunt with her Roommates. Notting Hill, December, 1988
Karen Hunt (left) with her Roommates. Notting Hill, December, 1988. Karen wears the anklet, made by Robyn Hunt, on her left leg. Photo Credit: Bob and Peggy Hunt.

As the semester drew to a close, Karen secured a word processing job at a company in Syracuse to earn some much-needed cash for her 4 month stay in London. It was her first summer away from Webster, and in concert with the spring semester at S.U. and the upcoming term in London, it was the longest stretch away from home in her life, although she still frequently made the 90 minute trip back home to the Rochester area.

It was during one of those trips home that she had a nightmare about something frightful happening to her flight. Karen was beginning to question her decision to study overseas; perhaps the dream was a manifestation of these as of yet unspoken fears. The past year had been remarkable—she finally had the confidence to improve as a student, she had a large circle of close friends, her relationship with Mark had developed to the point that family and friends foresaw the two getting married not long after college, and she had a family who adored and supported her without reservation.

She would leave all of this behind in a matter of weeks for a temporary home 3,000 miles away, only this time, there would be no trips home on weekends or vacations, or dates with Mark, or late night conversations with old friends. Tapes, phone calls and letters would be her only lifelines to the familiar. For a moment, she began to doubt the wisdom of traveling to London.

Karen found her mother in the kitchen, and the 2 women found themselves in a deeply philosophical discussion. Shaken by her dream and underlying anxiety, Karen questioned her decision to enroll in DIPA: “Maybe I shouldn’t even go.” She looked at Peggy and asked, “do things happen for a reason?” Both wrestled with the question and all of its implications until they finally came to a conclusion: yes, there is a purpose behind the design of things. What will be will be.

She would go to London.

Karen Hunt (right), fall, 1988
Karen Hunt (right), fall, 1988. Photo Credit: Robert and Peggy Hunt.

The whirlwind pace of packing, traveling, and finding lodging in Notting Hill kept her doubts at bay, and it didn’t take long for Karen’s adventurous spirit to reemerge. Her new roommates quickly discovered what Karen’s friends at Syracuse had known for the past 2 years—that their new friend was a sensitive, intuitive, and perceptive woman who possessed a desire to explore her new world with enthusiasm. Karen told her friends in London about her plan to write a novel, and she frequently shared her writing with her roommates. She attended plays, frequented museums, and in keeping with her wish to sample as much as she could, she even attended a KISS concert even though she wasn’t a fan of the group’s music.

As she had in Syracuse, Karen often played the role of counselor and mediator for her friends and roommates. Many of them had difficult relationships with their parents as young adults getting their first real taste of independence often do. The discussions, complaints, and arguments about and with family members made Karen appreciate the close relationship she enjoyed with her own family, and as the midterm break approached, Karen asked her mother to join her in the latter part of October.

Matthew Cox and Tom Foster chronicle the visit in Their Darkest Day: “During Mrs Hunt’s stay the two women toured London and traveled to Paris. One night at her London flat Karen prepared dinner for her mother, who thought: My little girl is growing up.”

On another night, Karen and Peggy found themselves lost in another conversation. Karen was looking forward as was her way, though the future was murky at best. The Christmas break would finally reunite her with her family and Mark; she’d finally have a chance to spend a few weeks home before moving into the Pi Beta Phi house for the second half of her junior year. Beyond that lay her senior year, graduation, and uncertainty. Karen told Peggy that she didn’t know what she do after college, but whatever it was, she hoped that her family would be proud of her. As the women readied for bed, Karen thought about the tense relationships between many of her friends and their parents and said to her mother, “I’m glad we’re so close.”

Karen Hunt, December 1988
Karen Hunt (right) with her roommates in Notting Hill. Karen wears the anklet Robyn made for her on her left leg. Photo Credit: Robert and Peggy Hunt.

London was the greatest adventure of Karen’s life, but as Thanksgiving rolled by and Christmas approached, Karen became increasingly homesick. It was with a sense of relief and excitement that Karen finished packing her bags on December 21. Among the gifts she was bringing home was a Guns n’ Roses album unobtainable in the States for Robyn and a Wedgewood teapot for Peggy. She left her apartment building for the last time and made her way to Heathrow Airport where she boarded the “Clipper Maid of the Seas.” She was assigned seat 31k, a window seat just aft of the wing spar. Kenneth John Bissett, a Cornell student participating in Syracuse’s DIPA program and one of Karen’s new friends, sat next to her. Like Karen, he also aspired to be a writer; no doubt the two students began talking about their experiences in London, their aspirations, and the excitement of returning home to loved ones.

The plane would land at JFK around 9:30pm; Karen’s feeder flight to Rochester was scheduled to arrive at 11:30pm. Mark had purchased earrings and a dozen red roses for his girlfriend. Robyn watched the clock tick down the minutes in school. Peggy was working at Xerox, and Robert Hunt would fly into Rochester a few hours before his daughter’s arrival. All looked forward to what was sure to be the happiest night of the year.

Pan Am Flight 103 took off at 6:25 local time.

“A Most Beautiful Soul”

Words don’t seem to be adequate to describe the inner beauty that I witnessed. I remember thinking to myself that already in her twenty years of life I couldn’t be more proud of her – just for being who she was and for having blossomed into someone so beautiful and special.
Peggy Hunt

Karen’s portraits reveal a slender young woman with alabaster skin, a freckled nose, and dark, wavy hair that accentuates her long, swan-like neck, yet these features, though striking, are eclipsed by a pair of soulful, preternaturally large brown eyes. Her eyes reflect the gentle, kind spirit of a young woman who, in Peggy Hunt’s words, “just filled a missing link for so many people.”

A broad tapestry of recollections, candid photographs, and recordings begin to fill in subtle details about her life and character. Playful and ebullient in some images, Karen appears shy and withdrawn in others. The eyes that often radiate kindness sometimes take on an intensity, as if, even over the span of decades, she’s still trying to see into the observer’s soul.

The varied images capture an essential truth about Karen Lee Hunt: somehow, she managed to combine disparate and contradictory qualities in unique ways while simultaneously being true to herself. Gentle by nature, she could also be driven and competitive. She was a quiet young woman who could spend hours composing poetry, yet she was equally at home on a crowded dance floor. Of a solitary nature, she nevertheless had many close friends and joined a sorority in her sophomore year. Sensitive to others’ feelings as well as her own and naturally intuitive, Karen gave astute advice to those around her, yet she preferred to keep many of her own feelings private. She was a devoted and loving sister, daughter, and friend with an insatiable need to explore the world, a peacemaker, and a wise spirit, yet she had a natural streak of mischievousness. She was often more independent than her peers, yet she shared a profoundly deep connection with her family at an age when many struggle with their parents.

Karen Hunt (right), with roommates. December, 1988
Karen Hunt (right), with roommates shortly before the bombing. December, 1988. Photo Credit: Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University: The Karen Lee Hunt Family Papers.

Karen’s depth of personality allowed her to get along with almost everyone she met, and she used this, perhaps her strongest trait, to calm, comfort, and help those around her, often placing the needs of others above her own. In the words of a roommate, “she gave the best advice and she really was honest, she took the time, she wanted to help, she had to help, she cared.” Appropriately, Karen’s favorite flower was the yellow rose, a symbol of friendship.

Around campus, Karen distinguished herself as having a unique, often offbeat personality and style. Though many thought her beautiful, she remained as humble and approachable as she had been in high school. She eschewed most metal jewelry, favored loose-fitting clothing, and in spite of the dozens of images taken during these years, she didn’t particularly care to be photographed. There was just a hint of a 60s and 70s flair to her style and attitude—she loved tie-dyed shirts and was often spotted walking barefoot around her dorm or apartment.

Her experiences in London profoundly affected her, allowing her to satiate her growing need to explore and examine the world, and herself, on her own terms. Karen took full advantage of the opportunity to sample a bit of everything London had to offer, from its dance clubs, restaurants and pubs, to museums, musicals, and the occasional concert. Ever the writer, she recorded the experiences in her meticulously penned journal.

Karen's patch on the Memorial Quilt at Syracuse University.
Karen’s patch on the Memorial Quilt at Syracuse University.

She would also lose herself in thoughts shared only with her family and closest friends. Her concerns would be quite familiar to any 20 year old college student today. Peering past the blur and euphoria of the semester in London, Karen was extremely cognizant of the fact that if the trip to London was her greatest adventure to date, it was also just the beginning of a series of life altering changes facing her in the upcoming months and years. She had 3 semesters left at Syracuse University before she’d be propelled into a competitive field that would certainly require her to move away from Webster and the family that grounded and supported her so well.

Karen and Mark enjoyed a particularly close and open relationship; in spite of the 4 hour distance between their hometowns in the summers and the vast gulf between them in the fall of 1988, they continued to grow closer when such distances often sundered other relationships. They had been together for over 2 years, and family and friends anticipated a wedding not long after graduation in the spring of 1990. The deeply career-oriented junior envisioned a lifetime with her love, but she likely thought long and hard about how her relationship would fall into place in light of the strenuous demands of her chosen field.

A terrorist’s bomb prevented her from ever answering these and so many other unspoken questions. As with the other passengers aboard Pan Am 103, Karen was robbed of her potential and aspirations over Lockerbie on the longest night of the year over a quarter of a century ago. Her dreams of journalistic success, of marriage and children, of spending time with her family and friends were dashed in a backyard on Park Place in Rosebank Crescent.

Yet her voice wasn’t completely stilled. Her friends and family often recount the feeling of not merely knowing her, but somehow being blessed with her presence, of feeling that Karen had somehow chosen them. Those fortunate enough to have known her often described her affect on their lives in hauntingly similar words that serve as testimony to her remarkable ability to touch those around her: “She really made a mark on my life; she changed my life”; “I feel incredibly lucky—more than that—perhaps “chosen” myself, to know Karen”; “her inner beauty was reflected on the outside.”

Several years after her death Karen would, through the words of “Somewhere My Friend”, inspire a complete stranger to reach out to the Hunt family with a song born from Karen’s poem. It is a moving and fitting tribute to Karen Lee Hunt, the kind, gentle young woman her mother described as “a most beautiful soul.”

Sources

Cox, Matthew, and Tom Foster. Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103 and Its Legacy of Hope. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1992. Print.

Fleming, Brendon. “Casting Light on Shadows of Tragedy.” The Student Voice IX.7 (2003): 12. Print.

Foster, Tom, Stephanie Gibbs, Matthew Cox, Karen Nelis, Jonathan Salant, and Maurice Smith. “The Darkest Day: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.” The Post-Standard [Syracuse] 7 Apr. 1989: n. pag. Print.

Hunt, Peggy, and Robert Hunt. Personal interview. 27 Dec. 2013.

Kaspersin, Dave. “Karen Lee Hunt Memorial.” Karen Lee Hunt Memorial. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Karen Lee Hunt by Robyn Hunt-Barry.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 Apr. 2013. Web.

Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives at Syracuse University

Saltzman, Jonathan. “Hunt’s Father Angry at Airline.” Democrat and Chronicle [Rochester] 31 Dec. 1988, sec. A: 1a+. Print.

Terror and Tears: The Story of PanAm 103. YNN, 2008. Web.

“Webster Native Dies in Crash.” The Webster Post [Webster, NY] 28 Dec. 1988: n. pag. Print.

There are 8 comments
  1. Carmella

    Dear Webmaster,

    I too, was deeply moved by the story of Karen Lee Hunt…even though I didn’t even know her. For about a year after receiving a letter from her mother, I was completely consumed by her story and the grief her family went through. I feel ashamed of it now. Why was I so touched and consumed by the life and death of a young woman I never knew who did not even live in the same country that I live in? (FYI, I live on the other side of Lake Ontario 😉 I look back at those times when I was so touched by her story and feel that I shouldn’t have gotten so involved in it. Your site helped me understand my feelings and I can totally relate to why you were so touched. I too, felt a deep connection with Karen. We had so many things in common: writing poetry, being the eldest of two daughters, being brunettes with wide eyes (Karen looked a bit like Jennifer Jones and I’ve been told that I look a bit like Audrey Hepburn), a deep sensitivity for those who suffer, the same Faith, a flare for adventure (I’ve taught in English in Korea twice and made two trips to France) and we both had fathers named Robert and called Bob and our younger sisters are both teachers (actually I’m a teacher too). Thank you so much for setting up this site and making me realize that other strangers were also deeply touched by Karen’s story and that..it’s ok to be deeply touched by Karen.
    I cannot think of Karen so much the way I use to or my heart will hurt too much. I keep Karen and her family close to my God. Once again, thanks for this site and bearing your soul. We will keep Karen in a special place in our hearts where she is forever at peace and leave her family there too.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Someone who’s middle name is Carmella <3

    • fjordaniv

      Hi Carmella,

      Thank you for your kind words. I remember feeling stunned during the weeks after the Lockerbie tragedy, confused about the emotions both it and Karen’s death elicited, and guilty for grieving over the death of someone I never met—”what gives me the right . . .” was a common thought in my mind back then. Those were isolated times; I had no idea others felt the same way, so I shut the experiences away after I sent a poem to her family in 1990. It’s humbling to find someone who had a similar experience.

      The priest at Karen’s church called her “a light that touched many lives”; I believe that we live on in the thoughts and memories of others, and I’m happy to find others who keep a bit of Karen alive in their thoughts and prayers.

  2. Carmella

    Was Karen Catholic? What was her religion and ethnic background?

    I really wish her parents could write a book about her like Rosemary Mild did with her daughter Miriam.

  3. fjordaniv

    She was Catholic. I’m not sure about her ethnicity.

    Her parents have been quite generous toward and involved with the Pan Am 103 Archives; a book is quite an undertaking, but it would be worthwhile.

  4. Carmella

    It’s great you got a chance to see all those archives about her. Residing on the otherside of Lake Ontario makes it a little difficult to travel to Syracuse and see all that stuff up close and personal (actually I’m little up James Bay at the moment). I’m also not sure if I could have the stamina to look at all those archives about Karen and the Syracuse students. It must be so much to take in. Too much for one gulp. Maybe someday I’ll visit Syracuse and pay my respects to that special memorial at Henrick’s Chapel…someday..one day <3

    • fjordaniv

      The archivists at Syracuse are wonderful. I had a chance to look at a number of folders; the Victims of Pan Am 103 material was fascinating, and several parents and family members came in while I was talking or researching. It was a somber experience.

      What I found will “color” the site a little, but I’m still going to use only publicly available sources, as I want to balance my focus on storytelling and history with Karen and her family’s privacy. I’ll probably add a links page to what I’ve found (beyond what I have on the Home page).

      I will say that what I saw confirmed the high opinions so many held of her.

  5. Carmella

    This is a weird question, but I would really like to know what Karen saw when she was in Paris? Did she set foot inside La Sainte Chappelle? Gare Montparnasse ?Notre Dame? Sacre Coeur? That little chapel on Rue de Bac? Jim Morrison’s grave? La Tour d’Eiffel? I was in the Montparnesse area of Paris last spring and can’t help but wonder now if I walked in her very footsteps….Perhaps she even ate at the same cafes that I ate….not that I was thinking of her at the time…I wonder if the archives talk about her trip to Paris and what she saw while she was there with her mom….It’s a haunting feeling that I probably walked in her footsteps while there last May…Well anyway, do post what you can and what is appropriate for her family!

  6. fjordaniv

    I didn’t see anything pertaining to Paris; there are some accounts from newspapers or books about the trip. Many of the DIPA students made it to France that fall.

    I’ve gotten some odd feelings at Gettysburg and Jumonville Glen in Pennsylvania, and Ganondagan near my old home in New York. It was unnerving driving to Webster in 1989, but my sisters live there now so it’s a common enough trip that I’ve lost that sense of history.

    There weren’t any particularly strong feelings of walking in the path of history when I went to Syracuse last month until I went to look at the posters in the lounge. I could imagine many of the students sitting in the same lounge in the spring of 1988, albeit without the laptops. I also imagined some of the students coming over to the cafes and shops just off campus.

    Many recent DIPA students have written about living in the same area as the students from ’88 in London.

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