The low moans of bagpipes, thousands of miles from Scotland, reverberated across Syracuse University on Friday. Two pipers, wearing traditional green and purple tartan kilts, led five Scotsmen in orange and blue cycling uniforms to the memorial they had been preparing to visit for a year.
They walked in unison, each gripping a thin bicycle. Their uniforms, still damp from the rainy ride from Utica, clung to their bodies, dirt slick on their backsides. Their eyes roamed the crowd of students, faculty, media and families. One nodded his head, and another pressed his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss.
The cyclers reached the crowd and handed their bikes to waiting students. Then, they glanced at each other and embraced tightly.
For the five Scottish men, these steps they took were the last few feet of a 3,238-mile journey that took them from Lockerbie, Scotland, to the Wall of Remembrance at SU. But they didn’t just prove it was possible to bike the distance from one continent to another. For the five cyclists, the days on the road were a time to reflect on Pan Am Flight 103, the plane that exploded over Lockerbie — a small town significant to each of them — 30 years ago.
It was a journey for their own personal memories. For the next generation of people to call Lockerbie home. For the 270 victims of the 1988 terrorist attack, including 35 students studying through SU who never made it back to school.
The journey was a bridge between the past and future, between Lockerbie and Syracuse.
It was time to come home.
The plane crash
When Colin Dorrance joined the Scottish police on August 5, 1988, he was the youngest officer on the force at 18 years old. He started his training at the police college that month and became a full officer by October.
On December 21, 1988, Dorrance, in a collared shirt, tie and blazer, hopped into his car to travel to a Christmas party. Driving along a country road at about 7 p.m., he listened to the radio. The evening news had just finished, and the weather report was starting.
Unknown to him, a bomb had just detonated in a Pan American Airways Boeing 747-121 that was flying over the town on its way to New York City. Only when Dorrance saw the explosion, illuminating the trees on a dark Lockerbie night, did he realize something was wrong. He was witnessing what was then the most deadly air disaster in the United Kingdom.
Though Dorrance worked in a town 15 miles away, he stayed in Lockerbie as a first responder until January of the next year, working in the mortuary, processing passenger luggage and guarding the wreckage. When he went back to his usual operational duties, Pan Am Flight 103 became a subject he didn’t revisit.
Dorrance distanced himself from the victims. As a policeman, it wasn’t professional. As an 18 year old, with no wife or kids, it was easier to handle.
“You can deal with the dead bodies and you can deal with the process, but when you start to make it personal and they become real and it becomes emotional, so you kind of have to take a mental step away from it and just not go there,” Dorrance said.
It’s how he viewed the disaster for 24 years until his daughter, Claire, traveled to Syracuse as a Lockerbie Scholar, part of the one-year scholarship program created by SU and Lockerbie Academy following the disaster. Five years later, his son Andrew would do the same.
It was Dorrance’s children that made him revisit the plane crash that changed his life.
“When Claire got the scholarship, she then started to meet some of the parents of these bodies that I actually handled,” Dorrance said. “It’s actually been quite nice to revisit it and understand what became of that family.”
Dorrance has since hosted numerous tours of Lockerbie to SU students and faculty, including Chancellor Kent Syverud and his wife, Ruth Chen. Giving tours of the town has made Dorrance’s connection to the tragedy more personal, he said.
In 2017, Dorrance began thinking about his planned retirement from the police force. The end of his 30-year career would coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Pan Am Flight 103 disaster. He wanted to remind people in Lockerbie and in the U.S. that people were still thinking about what had been lost three decades ago.
It was a matter of coincidences that brought the bike journey, officially called Cycle to Syracuse, together.
When Dorrance and his wife Judith came to Syracuse last April to visit their son, they met Peg Northrup, director of operations at Hendricks Chapel. Northrup wanted to take them out to lunch at Varsity Pizza.
After Northrup parked her white Nissan Rogue on Marshall Street, Dorrance noticed a sticker on the back of the car: a bicycle with yin and yang symbols as wheels.
“Colin immediately looked at the sticker and said, ‘What does this mean?’” Northrup said. “And I said, ‘Oh, I’m a cyclist.’ And his wife went, ‘Oh, here we go.’”
Northrup and Dorrance began chatting about Dorrance’s idea for Cycle to Syracuse, and she knew she wanted to help. Northrup became Cycle to Syracuse’s U.S. logistics coordinator, using her cycling network to plan routes and places to stay. She also connected Dorrance to key team members like Miles Ross, her neighbor and cycling friend, who became the group’s maintenance and support man.
Back in Scotland, Dorrance gathered a number of cyclists who each represented the different first responders the night Pan Am Flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie.
Paul Rae, who grew up with Dorrance in Lockerbie, represented the fire services. David “Heavy” Whalley was a team leader of the Royal Air Force’s mountain rescue service the night of the disaster. Brian Asher, headteacher of Lockerbie Academy, represented the relationship between Syracuse and Lockerbie. David Walpole was a banker who helped with the disaster relief fund in 1988 and is now a paramedic. He represented the ambulance service.
Only Walpole had cycling experience. The other four trained specifically for Cycle to Syracuse.
“If we’re all five professional cyclists, that might be a lot easier,” Dorrance said in October, before the ride began. “But we are not. We are still very much learning how we do this, which makes the journey that we are doing a challenge.”
Dorrance was Cycle to Syracuse’s main organizer. He developed each stage of Cycle to Syracuse to encompass the phrase, “Look Back, Act Forward.”
During September and October of the journey’s first stage, the five cyclists completed more than 2,600 miles of the journey and visited 12 primary schools in Lockerbie, explaining the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing and hosting bike rides. Cycle to Syracuse also started a campaign to raise money for Soul Soup, a local charity, to bring a mental health counselor to Lockerbie Academy.
For the second stage of the trip, the team organized an 80-cyclist ride from Lockerbie to Edinburgh Castle, followed by a reception in the castle’s Great Hall.
The third stage began on Oct. 26. The cyclists left the Lockerbie Memorial Cairn in Washington, D.C.’s Arlington National Cemetery and biked 600 miles through Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City to arrive in Syracuse on Thursday, representing the journey to bring the student victims home.
Cycle to Syracuse marked many of the men’s first times to New York and the U.S. They passed through the Hudson Valley, their ride along Route 9 framed by hills of trees with golden, sunset-colored leaves. They cycled through rural towns and major cities. Cycling gave them a chance to enjoy the sights of the U.S. at a slower pace.
The ride wasn’t without stress. On the first day of cycling in Washington D.C., the team was extremely disjointed, said Ross, the support van’s driver. The van, which carried bicycle maintenance supplies and drove along the shoulder of roads, was supposed to closely follow the last cycler of the group to protect them from other cars. He often couldn’t find the group because the GPS malfunctioned and the cyclists weaved in and out of traffic, Ross said.
The team’s coordination eventually improved, but they faced challenges including physical illness and rain. The hustle of some of the mornings, with quick breakfasts and media requests, were not conducive to a good day of cycling, Ross said.
Whalley got sick and sat in the van for a few days. When he checked into an emergency room in Syracuse, he found out he had bronchitis. Asher also sat out most of one day’s journey because he felt ill due to lack of sleep and nutrition. He accepted he needed a day of rest to be able to complete the rest of the journey.
Weather was also a concern. Several days of cycling were cold and rainy. If the cyclists took too long to rest, they could lose body heat and focus. When they were recharging with food and drinks, they sat in a heated RV.
The cyclers also didn’t plan for the emotional strain that came with meeting victims’ families. Some visits were planned, like with the Monetti family in Philadelphia, who lost their son Richard, an SU student, on the plane. Others were not.
Kelly Halsch and her father, Paul Halsch, who lost numerous family members in the bombing, flagged the cyclers on the side of the road as they biked through Maryland. Some people are only now coming to terms with memories from 30 years ago, Whalley said.
As a result, the cyclists often didn’t bike the planned number of miles per day. Instead, they’d hop into the support van, RV or pickup truck to arrive at the next destination.
“You cannot flash by a relative who’s lost four people, including an unborn child, and say ‘We’ve got cycling to do,’ so something has to give,” Whalley said. “And a huge give is what we are here for. What we are here for is getting kids home.”
The cyclists and support team met with Kim Darroch, the British Ambassador to the U.S., while in Washington, D.C. SU’s Lubin House also hosted a reception with the British Consul General of New York, Antony Phillipson.
The team organized access to some of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks. The team’s Oct. 13 ride to Edinburgh Castle was special, Asher said, because the castle is a symbol of Scotland for both natives and foreigners. The castle’s Great Hall is rarely used for public receptions. The significance of cycling through the capital city with a pipe band escorting them through closed-off streets was not lost, Asher said.
The weather made the 70-mile journey to the castle difficult. It was raining so hard that the cyclists’ feet were submerged in puddles for complete pedals. But the number of friends, family and other community members on the streets, waving and shouting despite the rain, made him proud, said Rae, who grew up in Lockerbie.
Government officials and Scottish residents weren’t the only ones following Cycle to Syracuse. In the U.S., people on the street noticed the team’s bright orange sweatshirts and Scottish accents and asked about what they were doing, Walpole said.
On the final day of biking from Utica to Syracuse, the five cyclists received a police escort. Cars honked and drivers waved, and the cyclists waved back.
“I remember day one, saying to Colin, ‘These people know who we are,’” Walpole said. “They’re not just tooting the horn, waving.”
Families of victims traveled to New York City, some from as far as California and South Carolina, to meet the cyclers as they arrived in Central Park. But many of the connections were coincidental. The cyclists met a construction worker in front of the team’s Washington, D.C. hotel that had a relative on Pan Am Flight 103, Walpole said.
At SU, Larry Mason, a professor of photography and the Remembrance and Lockerbie Ambassador, distributed buttons to SU community members representing all 270 victims of the Pan Am Flight 103 attack. Asher received a button with the name Judith Bernstein Atkinson.
During a Friday reception at SU, Asher was speaking to a couple when the man looked closely at Asher’s button. Asher’s button had the name Judith on it, which happened to be the man’s wife’s sister’s name. Judith had also studied to be a teacher.
The cyclists met an 85-year-old woman on the road. This woman, Whalley said, told the cyclists that she can die happy now that her daughter has come home.
“Beautiful, beautiful woman. And I kind of looked at her,” Whalley said, “and just started crying.”
A new season
As important as it was to honor the victims from 30 years ago, the cyclists also understood the importance of looking forward. It’s important for future generations of Lockerbie children to know the history of the town, Asher said, but also to focus on the positive connections that came out of the disaster.
During the first stage of Cycle to Syracuse in September, the cyclists visited Lockerbie schools to teach students about Pan Am Flight 103. Many of the children already had some knowledge of the disaster, Dorrance said, which took the cyclists by surprise.
Cycle to Syracuse also exceeded its goal in raising money for a local charity called Soul Soup. The team reached its target of raising 10,000 pounds before even reaching Syracuse. The money will bring a mental health counselor to Lockerbie Academy, which currently doesn’t have one, Asher said.
It’s important to help children to talk about their problems if needed, he said. It was an especially personal goal for Asher himself as his daughter has struggled with mental health issues, he added.
“I now want to make sure with any opportunity I have that I plug any gap that there might be to help youngsters who are in that sort of difficult place,” Asher said. “We can see physical health — it shows on the outside. Mental health doesn’t. And that’s why we need to work harder to make it easy for kids to get help.”
When Dorrance attended the annual Remembrance Week Rose Laying Ceremony, he wore his formal black police uniform, complete with a hat and white gloves, for the last time. Despite officially retiring in August, Friday marked the end of his 30-year career. Dorrance didn’t feel as emotional as he thought he would, he said. Rather, he felt content and at peace.
“Just like the leaves are falling from the trees here, there’s a time for a different season,” Dorrance said. “And I feel that I am going into a different season.”
Cycle to Syracuse has helped strengthen the bond between not just Syracuse University and Lockerbie Academy, but Syracuse and Lockerbie, Dorrance said. The journey has created dialogue and brought forward people who haven’t spoken about Pan Am Flight 103 before.
When the cyclists visited the Lockerbie schools, they spoke to children as young as 4 to 18 years old, Dorrance said. This should ensure that for years more, students will understand the significance of Pan Am Flight 103. The students took photos with a shepherd’s crook, a gift the cyclists were bringing to SU that represents the town’s sheep farming history, Dorrance said.
During the reception of the cyclists’ arrival, Dorrance presented the crook and a signature book, which was signed by all the students the cyclists visited in Lockerbie. One day, Dorrance hopes those students will visit Syracuse to find their names.
As Dorrance spoke — surrounded by the cyclists and the support team, university officials, faculty, students and members of victims’ families — the leaves from the trees rustled in the breeze. They were falling.
At age 10, Deynaba Farah moved to Syracuse with her family as resettled refugees from Somalia. Initially, she struggled with her identity as a Muslim in America — and with how to balance two cultures. Now 21 and more certain of herself and her identity, Deynaba is determined to give back and invest into her own community.
Along South State Street, in Syracuse, N.Y., Deynaba Farah and her family live just beyond the Carrier Dome in an apartment complex with other Somali families.
Halima Abdikhadin, 9, stood up in front of the classroom to copy all of the notes off of Farah’s board. The students are expected to behave well, sit straight and copy Farah’s notes. Each student is provided with a book of letters that she orders.
Deeza Adan and Ikran Kahiya sit along the wall silently after their classmate, Shaniyah Ali, misbehaved during their class time.
Farah reads "The Seerah of the Prophet," an Islamic text, at their weekly book club. She hosts one book club for the boys and one book club for the girls each weekend. She hopes to one day have these children not only know about their religion but feel comfortable being Muslim in America.
Each school day Farah works not only with school kids, but with her family and community members as well. A pile of shoes sits alongside the consistently open front door as kids come in and out of her apartment for back to back classes.
Bed-Stuy Ambulance Service on Life Support
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps works out of a trailer in a Brooklyn, answering the occasional 911 call, and training the next generation emergency medical technicians.
Thirty years ago, James Robinson had just emerged from the Nostrand Avenue subway station when a neighbor told him his 7-year-old niece had been hit by a car nearby. He rushed into the crowd of people surrounding her and jumped into the ambulance with her.
His niece, Cynthia Lomax, was surrounded by modern life-saving equipment, Mr. Robinson said, but, “The attendant didn’t even know how to turn on the oxygen.” Before the ambulance reached the hospital, she was dead, he said.
That began Mr. Robinson’s effort to bring emergency care to Bedford-Stuyvesant. In 1988, Mr. Robinson and a partner, Joe Perez, founded the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps, also known as the Bed-Stuy Vollies, to serve the neglected neighborhood.
“As I was driving throughout the city, no matter where I went, I always remembered that the people in my hood was being disserviced,” Mr. Robinson said.
For years, the service was a vital part of the emergency response system, showing up at the scenes of the many shootings and health emergencies. But in recent years, the crime rate has gone down. There are fewer 911 calls overall and the demand for the Vollies has diminished.
The corps struggles to stay ahead of its bills. Only one of the three ambulances runs, and the Vollies are always searching for funds to keep that one operating; even with a volunteer staff, it costs about $250,000 to keep it supplied and its gas tank full.
Still, said Mr. Robinson, “I’ll retire the day I die.”
The service operates out of a trailer with a leaky roof on the corner of Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Green Avenue. The lot is littered with desk chairs, tables, tarps and training equipment and encompassed by red, white and blue metal fence. There, Mr. Robinson, now 76, focuses on offering classes to train his recruits for the Emergency Medical Services certification exam.
Once a chronic drug user, Mr. Robinson took classes in emergency medical response at Long Island University after his niece’s death. “Even though I wasn’t trained, I wanted to be trained,” he said.
Many mornings, trainees line up in front of the trailer, waiting for Mr. Robinson, known as Rocky, to give them the plan for the day. They raise their hands in a stiff salute as he rolls forward in his wheelchair.
“Who are we?” he shouts.
“Family,” the cadets respond in unison.
More than 1,000 students have passed through his program. They quickly move on, he said, to become police officers, firefighters, doctors or paramedics. “Eventually they graduate and they don’t come back,” he said. “I don’t get mad, because they graduated.”
Students pay $500 for the three-month program. There are government subsidies for those who cannot afford the classes, as long as they pass the state exam. Mr. Robinson said that the actual cost of running the classes can be as much as $1,500 per student, and that many students slip through without paying him the full $500. Though there are occasional donations, usually Mr. Robinson foots the bill.
Mr. Robinson has needed emergency medical care himself. In 1992 he went into cardiac arrest. The fire department emergency team that responded included several people he had helped train.
At the emergency room, he was treated by Dr. Timothy Sutton, a graduate of the first E.M.T. class he had hosted. After nine years of dialysis he needed a kidney transplant. The donor was Reggie Crawford, another of his students.
“They refused to let ‘the commander’ die,” he said.
“What do we do?” Mr. Robinson shouts from his wheelchair.
“Save lives,” the cadets respond.
Mr. Robinson later explained what keeps him going.
“There ain’t no greater high than saving a life,” he said.
James Robinson, 76, known as “Rocky,” is the founder of the ambulance corps, which has been struggling financially.
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps is located at the intersection of Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Greene Street, in a residential area of Brooklyn.
Mr. Degeyndt, left, and Ebony Copeland, right, treat a patient who was hit by a car on Fulton Street. Mr. Degeyndt is a recent graduate of the Bedford Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Ms. Copeland is a current student. The Corps takes pride in their students real time experience in the field.
The operation runs whenever volunteers are available and the ambulance is “at 800,” or fully stocked with medical equipment.
Using a patient simulation mannequin, Alonzo Culbert, 30, practices CPR.
Mr. Robinson is legally blind. The print on his phone is fairly large, and he often struggles to read it.
Ebony Copeland, 31, prepares the gurney with a new sheet for the next patient. The hospital often shares supplies like sheets, bags and oxygen tanks with the ambulance corps.
Jakeem McKenzie, 24, left, assists Mr. Degeyndt, right, while he loads a patient into their ambulance. The patient had suffered a mild heart attack.
Atma Degeyndt, 38, right, records information after an Officer Yanaris Mark, left, was kicked by a suspect.
From Lights and Sirens to Bats and Gloves
Tomas Acosta retired in Valencia, Spain following his law enforcement career. He worked as a police officer and later in youth relations at the sheriff’s office in Naples, Florida. After coaching youth baseball for many years in the United States, he crossed paths with Valencia Astros Coach Juan Garcia Puig. From there, Acosta hit the bases as a coach with Astros.
“I’ve never been involved in coaching in that sense, being so diverse with different nationalities. With most of them, some kids, they do show up and they’re just beginning Spanish, but they might be better in English and that work pays off,” Acosta said. His team of 18 young people are from all over the world. He speaks both English and Spanish during his practices, and says the kids learn the language as the season progresses.
“Here, just the culture, the environment, the European sense of growing up, it’s different. These kids, most of them are pretty well educated in a sense [with manners], that sort of thing. It’s a lot easier to tell you the truth. You’ll get a couple of knuckleheads here or there. But nothing compared to the States where sometimes it’s difficult. It’s real difficult. It’s just the culture.” (Left) Billy, a bilingual player from Texas, leads the team in stretches before the game. Acosta said he lets the kids be independent while doing exercises. (Right) Acosta helps Oliver with being able to throw. Acosta said he has a show not tell method of coaching and he’ll often demonstrate the action himself.
The final game for the youth Valencia Astros team was on Monday, June 19, 2018. The game was a friendly between another local team, The Pirates. The Astros won the game.
Laps around the bases is a commonplace during practice. Occasionally, the kids will do sprints. The ages of the team range from 7 to 11.
More coaches have been added to the coaching team. “The other gentleman is from Venezuela. He’s seeking political asylum here, so he’s been here about a year. He loves baseball. He’s helping me out,” Acosta said. “They’re volunteers. I’m legally the one on people. The one in the black shirt, Miguel, he’s got two kids here. The other one, no. He just enjoys the game.”
Syracuse Mens Basketball
In February of 2015, 18 students traveled to Sasle in Jinotega, Nicaragua to build two homes. The small town of Sasle is nestled in the mountains of Nicaragua and many of the homes are made of spare materials.