TRENTON, N.J. — On the one-year anniversary of the release of the Pan Am bomber, Sonia Stratis and Chris Tedeschi weren't focused on the man who took so much from their families, but on the love they found.
The couple met at a memorial for the victims and say they instantly fell in love. They planned to spend Friday night with family, friends and nearly two dozen victims' relatives at a rehearsal dinner for their weekend wedding in New Jersey.
Stratis, 28, and Tedeschi, 33, both grew up in New Jersey but didn't meet until December 2008 at a memorial dinner to remember the 20th anniversary of the bombing that killed all 259 people aboard Flight 103 — mostly Americans — and 11 on the ground in 1988 in Lockerbie, Scotland.
Stratis lost her father, Elia, in the bombing. Tedeschi's father married a Lockerbie widow, Kathy Daniels, and he grew up with her three children.
They are getting married in Montvale Saturday and were holding their rehearsal dinner in Parsippany on Friday night — one year to the day that Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, the only person jailed for the 1988 bombing, was freed from a Scottish prison on humanitarian grounds.
Doctors had given Al-Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, three months to live. A year later, he's still alive and living in Libya.
The flight he bombed had taken off from London's Heathrow Airport headed for New York, and many of the victims were from New Jersey and New York. New Jersey's senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, renewed calls Friday for more details on the circumstances of his release by sending a letter to the British, Scottish, Libyan and Qatari governments citing evidence of commercial pressures influencing his release.
If their memories are long, so is the bride's. She plans to carry a picture of her father in her bouquet as she walks down the aisle.
"Yes, it is the anniversary, but we can't let it stop our lives," Stratis told The Daily Mail in London. "He (Al-Megrahi) took my father from me, but I'm not going let him stop the fruitfulness of my life."
She met her husband-to-be after a dinner at a Marriott hotel in Crystal City, Va. The memorial weekend had been organized by Sonia's mother and Chris' stepmother.
"After the dinner, when the old people went to bed, the young people went to the bar," Daniels told The Associated Press, noting that the mothers didn't learn for a month that their children were dating but were delighted when they found out.
Stratis, a 28-year-old handbag designer, said Tedeschi intrigued her. He said he was drawn to her "vibrant" energy and quirky sense of humor.
"I don't want to make this sound cheesy or anything, but I met her and I knew," Tedeschi, an advertising executive, told The Daily Beast.
About two dozen other relatives of Lockerbie victims are planning to attend the wedding — a welcome distraction, relatives say, from thinking about the anniversary of Al-Megrahi's release.
"Though the pain of shared loss brought you together, your wedding marks a new beginning and the start of a lifelong partnership," President Barack Obama also wrote to them: "I wish you the very best as you embark on your journey together, and I hope your bond will grow stronger with each passing year."