Britain US Lockerbie Suspect

A police officer walks by the nose of Pan Am Flight 103 in a field near the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, where it lay after a bomb aboard exploded, killing a total of 270 people on Dec. 21, 1988. Authorities in Scotland on Dec. 11, 2022, said the Libyan man suspected of making the bomb that destroyed a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 is in U.S. custody. Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said in a statement that the families of those who died had been told the news. Martin Cleaver / AP file photo

Nearly 34 years ago, an explosion in the air above Scotland sent shockwaves through Brunswick.

On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb blast ripped through Pan Am Flight 103 as it was traveling from London to New York, killing all 259 people on board and 11 residents of the town of Lockerbie below.

The victims included Pamela Herbert, a Bowdoin College junior who lit up every room she walked in, and Nicholas Bright, an alumnus who had built lifelong friendships before his graduation in 1979.

In the years after the attack, as authorities worked to bring Libyan conspirator Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi to justice, the college community worked to heal the gaping wounds left by the attack. Today, scholarships honor both Herbert and Bright, and a memorial plaque sits outside the Whittier gate.

Sunday, some of those wounds reopened, when the U.S. Justice Department announced it had taken into custody Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi, who is suspected of making the bomb that destroyed Flight 103.

The news has left members of the Bowdoin community to grapple again with an unspeakable tragedy.


“It brings the memories right back,” said Ronald Brady, a former classmate of Herbert. “It brings the emotions right back.”

Wonderful to everyone

More than 30 years after she left Brunswick for what turned out to be the last time, Pamela Herbert’s ever-present smile still shines in the memories of those who shared Bowdoin’s campus with her.

“This is not hyperbole,” Brady said. “Pam was one of the most beautiful people, both inside and out. She was wonderful to everyone.”

Pamela Herbert Bowdoin Orient file photo

As young Black women from urban Michigan, Herbert and close friend Tamara Mallory-Brown had walked unlikely paths to Bowdoin, a school largely populated by affluent, white New Englanders.

The pair joined the African American Society, where they met Brady and formed deep relationships with other students who came to Maine as “outsiders.”

“There was really a sense of family,” Mallory-Brown remembered. “I think a big part of it was Pam.”


Herbert, a deeply religious student, served as the group’s “moral compass,” but she also had a playful side. When Mallory-Brown (then just Mallory) admitted having a crush on an older classmate, Herbert pushed her to ask him out — literally; decades after Herbert shoved the pair into one another at a party, Mallory-Brown and Tyrone Brown remain happily married.

From the sociology and economics classrooms where she studied to the church where she sang with the school’s gospel choir, Herbert and her smile became a Bowdoin institution.

“Some folks, when they go somewhere unfamiliar, they just kind of stay in their little world, they find their tribe and just stick to that group,” Mallory-Brown said. “She was involved in all kinds of things; she thrived.”

An imprint in a body

The news in 1988 didn’t make sense to Bowdoin Dean of Students Kenneth Lewallen.

He had known Herbert well, had called her “everything you want in a student.” In fact, she had just sent him a postcard from London, where she was studying abroad.

Yet now, just as Bowdoin’s campus was settling into hibernation for the winter break, English Professor and Director of Minority Affairs Gayle Pemberton was telling Lewallen that everything had changed.


“She called me,” he remembered, “and she just said a very few short words: ‘Pam is gone.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

As the news broke that a bomb had killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew aboard Pan Am Flight 103, Herbert’s loved ones raced to confirm whether she had been on the plane. According to newspaper accounts, four other Bowdoin students from the program had taken earlier flights home, including junior Kathy Bell, who had been bumped from Flight 103 due to a travel agent’s error.

But Lewallen soon received the confirmation he had been dreading. On Jan. 23, the college held a memorial service, as Herbert’s classmates, especially her fellow members of the African American Society, struggled to make sense of the tragedy.

“The loss of Pam was so profound,” Pemberton said. “There was a pall over things. It’s almost as if something has been pressed into and left an imprint in a body.”

A pledge to each other

Hermon was not the only member of the Bowdoin community the college lost aboard Pan Am Flight 103.

Nicholas Bright Photo contributed by Eleanor Bright

Nicholas Bright, who had spent summers and holidays at his parents’ vacation home on Little Cranberry Island, had graduated the college in 1979 after making a group of friends he hoped would last a lifetime.


The second youngest of 10 kids, Bright was a determined competitor on the squash court and in the classroom, according to his older brother Larry. It was that drive to make something of himself that had propelled him from Bowdoin to Harvard Business School and then to consulting firm Bain & Company.

But even as he moved up in the business world, he remained deeply connected to Bowdoin, said his widow, Eleanor Bright. Bright and his four best friends from school, who served as groomsmen in his wedding, made a solemn pact: No matter where they were or what was going on in their lives, they would return to Brunswick in 2004 for their 25th reunion.

When Pan Am Flight 103 went down on Dec. 21, Bright left behind a wife, a baby boy and that promise to his Bowdoin friends.

But those friends made sure not to leave behind Bright’s family. At the class of ’79’s 25th reunion, Eleanor Bright joined the group in Brunswick to celebrate Nicholas and the people he loved. And this October, the crew reunited again to celebrate the wedding of Bright’s son Nicholas.

“The Bowdoin community has continued to reach out to me and be supportive of me over the years,” Eleanor Bright said. “Which is really lovely.”

Laid to peace

Sunday’s news that another suspect in the Lockerbie bombing was in American custody has brought a complex wave of feelings in those who knew the victims. The announcement came two years after the U.S. charged Al-Marimi for his alleged involvement in the attack.


“Every time one of these things comes up, I say I laid it to rest, but I didn’t,” said an emotional Larry Bright. “I don’t wish for vengeance. But I wish it could be laid to peace.”

Eleanor Bright agreed news related to the bombing always tends to stir up pain, but she said she was glad Al-Marimi was in custody and would face trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“It does bring up a lot of things, a lot of memories, a lot of sadness,” she said. “But for me, that’s okay if I feel those things if one more person is brought to justice.”

For others, the status of the men responsible for the attack is almost a distraction from the real tragedy: the lives that have gone untouched by Bright’s drive and Herbert’s kindness.

“If this hadn’t happened, what would Pam be doing?” Mallory-Brown asked. “What did we all miss out on because she’s not here?”

Britain US Lockerbie Suspect

Unidentified crash investigators inspect the nose section of the crashed Pan Am flight 103, a Boeing 747 airliner in a field near Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 23, 1988. Dave Caulkin / AP file photo

Airplane crashed

Wrecked houses and a deep gash in the ground in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, after the bombing of the Pan Am 103 in the village of Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Martin Cleaver / AP file photo

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