Karen Hunt was known as a kindly, quirky, and free-spirited individual. Her time in London did nothing to temper these qualities, but the young woman from Webster found a new measure of confidence, maturity, and independence in Notting Hill. When she debarked in Rochester on December 21, she would return weary but wiser to her family, friends, and boyfriend; a cluster of friends and relatives were ready to greet the jet-lagged student as she entered the terminal in Rochester.
But for a catastrophic series of events, I would likely never have heard of Karen Lee Hunt. She should have returned to her sorority house on Maple Street in Syracuse roughly the same time I returned to O’Connor I at Nazareth, but this wasn’t to be the case.
December 21, 1988 was an unseasonably warm day, but like most days during my winter breaks, I spent much of the afternoon curled up on the couch in front of the wood stove. I was there when I initially heard the announcement about a Pan Am plane crashing in Scotland; it was around 3 in the afternoon, and the intermittent reports did little to create an unusual sense of urgency or provide any hint as to how deeply this tragedy would affect me in the coming days or years.
That changed when I was among the millions who heard a grieving mother’s cries as she writhed on the floor at JFK, the worst moment of her life playing out on the most public of stages.
I’ve often found that sometimes, the events that resonate most deeply don’t consist of a single catastrophic blow. Rather, a string of events and realizations builds up insidiously over a span of hours or days until we are suddenly and unexpectedly overcome with the enormity of it all. The cries at JFK started the process that would affect me, a 21-year-old college student with no direct ties to anyone on Pan Am 103, in an extraordinarily deep and wrenching way.
The announcement of a local link to the crash and an image of a young woman who bore a similarity to a friend from high school strengthened that connection, but the bombing of Pan Am 103 took on a deeper, more personal meaning when I read the details about a young woman whose passions seemed to be so similar to my own.
In the ensuing decades, I’ve learned more about Karen and the other passengers; I’ve some to see many of them as friends, met their families; and perhaps most importantly, as I’ve learned more about their lives, I’ve come to celebrate their lives in addition to commemorating their deaths on a cold Scottish night thirty years ago.