From SUNY Oswego
OSWEGO – On Dec. 21, 1988, two families waited for the return of a pair of SUNY Oswego students who were on their way home from studying abroad for a semester and traveling around Europe.
One family planned a surprise greeting with the entire family, and the other family lit candles in the windows of their home and had bought her a new car.
However, the surprise greetings that were to welcome them back home to the U.S. never had the chance to come to fruition, as the students never made it across the ocean.
That day, Colleen Brunner ’90 and Lynne Hartunian ’89 boarded Pan Am Flight 103 to cross the Atlantic Ocean back home to the U.S., but as it passed over Lockerbie, Scotland, the aircraft was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the land below.
Thirty years later, the families and friends of Colleen and Lynne keep the memory of the young women alive through sharing stories, yearly masses and remembering the lives lost that day, just three days before Christmas Eve, Lynne’s favorite holiday.
The women, along with a large group of SUNY Oswego students including Kristin Usaitis ’89 and Janette Hausler ’89, spent their fall semester studying communications and humanities in London, when they traveled all over Europe on the long weekends with large groups, just the four of them and in pairs.
After the program ended, the four women decided to stay for an extra few weeks for more travel. Kristin and Colleen had planned to room together at their Alpha Sigma Chi sorority house when they came back to SUNY Oswego.
“There was a dime that we found and so we kept throwing the dime in our suitcases and we would wind up with the dime, and then when I got home and I opened my suitcase there was a dime,” Usaitis said. “And when we were at Lynne’s memorial service, Jeanette and I were standing talking with Lynne’s best friend, Nancy, who was not with us… and then Nancy had walked away, and Jeanette and I are standing there, and I said ‘Jeanette, look down.’ There was a dime right where her best friend was standing. I believe that they send little things to us through dimes.”
Colleen was the youngest of eight children and often spoke of her family, Usaitis said. She called to speak to her mother every Sunday and frequently wrote letters to friends and family, including her older sister, Patti Brunner Collins. Collins described her sister as a kind and generous go-getter who embraced life.
When Colleen was coming home Dec. 21, she was unaware that it would not be only her mother and her sister, Patti, who would be picking her up from the airport.
Collins said the whole family and Colleen’s boyfriend planned to greet her with signs and smiles after not seeing her for a semester.
To keep the memory of Colleen alive, the family travels on-and-off to Arlington Cemetery, her home parish holds a mass every year on the anniversary of her death, her high school (Hamburg [N.Y.] High School) student government offers a scholarship in her memory, and the family has an endowment set up to provide a scholarship to SUNY Oswego students.
The family plans to travel to Washington D.C. this year for the anniversary and has been invited to the FBI headquarters for a memorial and a briefing on updates of the case.
“She had a heart of gold and she loved giving back to the community,” Collins said. “She’s the first person I think about when I wake up and she’s the last person I say goodbye to at night.”
Before going on the study abroad trip, Lynne often spent her time playing the piano, dancing, attending her Armenian church and visiting the local nursing home.
According to her mother, Joanne Hartunian, Lynne had a knack for finding the beauty and special traits in every person, regardless of the ones they wished could be different, giving that person confidence.
During her time in London, Lynne’s parents visited her and they went out to see “Les Miserables,” as she had a deep love for theatre.
Hartunian expressed that she was so impressed with how Lynne was able to handle the theatre and had become even more independent than she had already been.
Hartunian said that Lynne’s favorite holiday was Christmas Eve because that was the night when everyone she loved would gather in their home, both family and friends, and afterwards, she and her siblings would open one gift before Christmas Day.
“I’d want her to know that physically, she’s not with us; spiritually, we carry her with us wherever we go,” Hartunian said. “Every Christmas Eve, I always have everyone for dinner and we light a candle – the children all light a candle – in her memory so that she’s with us.”
Hartunian said every year on Dec. 21, their church holds a mass in honor of Lynne and they have also travelled to Washington for the memorial services held there, where she has kept up with the families of the other victims of the Lockerbie explosion.
A scholarship in Lynne’s name at Niskayuna High School has sent 30 graduating seniors to a SUNY school, including three to Oswego.
Since 1989, SUNY Oswego has kept both Colleen and Lynne’s memory alive through memorial masses at the Hall Newman Center, memorial dedications, remembrances, and most recently in 2015 during Reunion Weekend, a dedication to them and two alumni who perished during 9/11 in the form of the Peace Free and Easy memorial on west campus.
The memorial plaque says: “May this Memorial offer comfort, strength, peace and serenity to the families and friends of Colleen, Lynne, Mike and Rich.”
Dec. 21, 2018, marks 30 years since Colleen and Lynne died, but their spirits remain with their families, friends and with the campus of SUNY Oswego.
“All the kids on that plane, they wanted to know about the world, to know about other cultures, other people. They were curious, all of them,” Hartunian said.