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Seven-year-old Sonia Stratis was tucked up in bed one cold December night in when she heard the doorbell ring. It was a few days before Christmas and the little girl was excited. Her father was due home from an overseas business trip and outside, snow was falling. Yet it was not her father at the door but two of her mother's cousins, one of whom was the chief of police in their small New Jersey town of Montvale.
A plane had crashed thousands of miles away in Scotland.
Sonia's father was on the flight. Over time it slowly sank in that he wasn't coming home at all.
Today, 30 years after her father Elia Stratis was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight over Lockerbie, Sonia and her husband Chris Tedeschi will take their three young children to the Lockerbie memorial at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. The boys all have Greek middle names in honour of their grandfather Elia Stratis who died in Lockerbie.
Every year the family make the trip, one made particularly poignant on the 30th anniversary by the fact that their eldest son Joshua is now seven, the same age Sonia was when she lost her father. But what makes their visit even more remarkable is that the family are there to remember not just one victim of the Lockerbie bombing, but two. Sonia and her husband Chris were brought together by the disaster.
Sonia lost her father, Chris's stepmother lost her husband. Ten years ago they met at a memorial dinner for families of the victims, fell in love and married. That their joy has come through such shared heartbreak and grief has proved bittersweet for them both. I grieved for her loss in a new way with that realisation. But I am still so thankful for the three full little lives that have come from this loss. Today, accessories deer Sonia, 37, is a happy, vibrant, stay-at-home mum to three rambunctious young boys: Joshua, seven, Lucian, five, and Giovanni, two.
The family live in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Chris works as an executive film producer. Sonia as pictured wearing a Perth t-shirt with her family including father Elia in blue. Daily life, says Sonia, is a chaotic Love in lockerbie of 'diapers and snacks and runny noses', as well as school runs, children's parties and bundling up in jackets and hats for snow days.
But memories of the father she lost at such a young age are never far away. People from every corner of the globe were welcomed into our home. He was great at making people laugh and often played pranks on his friends. My dad was kind and fun. I'm sure he would have loved being Papou [Greek for grandfather] to my boys, and would no doubt focus their immeasurable energy towards sports. Instead, her older sons now recognise his picture, and all three have Greek middle names to honour their grandfather's heritage. They also understand that he and many others died because some bad men did an evil thing, although Sonia says she always tries to keep the conversation 'age appropriate'.
Especially when it comes Love in lockerbie raising our sons. Elia Stratis was a forensic ant who travelled widely, often taking his family with him on exotic holidays.
In December he had been on a business trip to Love in lockerbie Netherlands and had been due to fly home on the 22nd. But keen to get back for the traditional family Christmas party, he checked out of his hotel a day early and on the afternoon of December 21, boarded Pan Am Flight to New York. When his wife, Mary Kay, heard the first reports on the radio about a plane being downed, it didn't even occur to her that her husband might be on board.
It was only hours later that the family realised the truth. She acted as a wise filter for us, even as she was dealing with her own grief,' says Sonia. We were already active in school and sports and other activities, so she encouraged us to maintain and excel in whatever we were already doing or had a desire to try. By the time the terrorists were brought to trial I was in college, so at that point I did follow the case. Sonia and Chris first met at a memorial dinner for families of victims on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, which killed people in total, including 11 on the ground.
Sonia's husband Chris was raised with a stepmother and three step-siblings who had been deeply affected by the tragedy: his step-mother's first husband William Daniels died in the crash.
Chris's father Russ had married Kathy Daniels, whose husband William had been killed at Lockerbie, when Chris was in his early teens. Raised with a stepmother and three step-siblings who had been deeply affected by the tragedy, Chris understood the grief that comes with losing a loved one in a terrorist attack, and like many of the US victims' relatives, the two families had become close. Yet until that night, Chris and Sonia had never met. Chris says there was an 'instant chemistry'.
Sonia says he made her laugh, and that his jokes 'made me happy during what was usually a serious time'. We spent time talking that night along with his stepbrother and another fellow who had lost his father on the flight. After that we started talking on the phone. Trips between Boston and New York where the two lived followed, and they quickly fell in love. I didn't feel like I was going to be judged. Other people in my life — both friends and boyfriends — have said things like, Love in lockerbie can't you get over this?
The couple were engaged less than 18 months later. Their wedding, in Augustcoincided with the first anniversary of the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi from prison, a decision by the Scottish Government which many of the US victims' Love in lockerbie vehemently disagreed with, including Sonia's mother, who stated that the relatives 'felt betrayed'.
None of it marred the couple's special day, however. Sonia walked down the aisle on her mother's arm holding a bouquet with her father's picture, so that he could be with her. More than two dozen of the victims' relatives attended the wedding.
Even President Barack Obama sent the couple a message of good luck, saying: 'Though the pain of your shared loss brought you together, your wedding marks a new beginning and the start of a lifelong partnership. I love that something I have to share can bring hope to people. Love in lockerbie picture taken in Lockerbie on December 22,shows the wreckage of Pan Am flight aircraft that exploded killing all people aboard and 11 on the ground.
Scottish prosecutors on October 15, said they had identified two new Libyan suspects in the bombing. Sonia says that far from providing conflict, the disaster that brought them together has also brought them closer as a couple. Sure, there are the deep scars, but there is also for us a grounding in knowing that good can come out of evil,' she says. It was something that particularly resonated when her eldest son Joshua turned seven last month. I realise seven is an age when you have a foundation of self and many formed memories, but also so much of life you've not experienced yet.
I'm so thankful that Joshua has not experienced the loss I did at his age, and in a way he gets to retain a bit more innocence than I did when evil forced its way into my life and took my daddy. In common with many relatives of the US victims, the Stratis family felt that justice had been done when Megrahi was convicted.
InSonia's mother Mary Kay, who is chairman of the board of the US group Victims of Pan Am Flightreleased a strongly worded statement regarding an appeal of the Libyan's conviction, which is currently being considered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and is backed by Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora at Lockerbie and has been a vocal supporter of Megrahi.
Sonia is slightly more reticent about the review, which is expected to take several years. Do I think that the whole truth has been brought to light? I do feel that the evidence presented in court was fairly compelling, but I definitely don't believe that's all there is to what happened. Sonia and her mother have visited Lockerbie several times, and when the boys are older she plans to bring them to Scotland too.
At last year's memorial service at Arlington, watching others lay flowers, Joshua collected some leaves and placed them by the name of the grandfather he never met. Then he found some more and placed them at Bill Daniels's name. It was a touching tribute from a little boy whose family was created out of unfathomable tragedy — the legacy of which is now bringing hope.
A love born from horror of Lockerbie: Her father killed, his family torn apart by tragedy. The profoundly moving story of a couple brought together by the ghastly carnage that killed Sonia Stratis was just 7 when police told her that her father had died in Lockerbie Her husband Chris's stepmother lost her husband in the same tragedy Ten years ago they met at a memorial dinner, fell in love and are now married Today they will take their three children to the memorial in Arlington cemetery By Emma Cowing For The Daily Mail Published: BST, 21 December Updated: BST, 21 December e-mail shares.
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Portraits of grief and love in ‘Lockerbie’