CHERRY HILL, New Jersey — Susan Cohen had been waiting for this day since her daughter was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb in 1988, allegedly at the behest of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Thursday morning, she got the news: Gadhafi was dead. And she planned to keep a promise that she had made long ago.
"I'm just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate," she said.
Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 259 people on board and 11 people on the ground. Many victims were Americans from New Jersey and New York flying home for the holidays.
The U.S. government implicated Gadhafi's regime, and a Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was convicted as the mastermind.
He was released from British captivity in 2009 on humanitarian grounds because he was supposedly near death. But the fact that he remains alive two years later remains a concern to U.S. officials and relatives of the victims.
Kara Weipz, whose 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was aboard the flight, said she was stunned to hear of the dictator's death. She was feeling "relief, knowing he can't hurt and torture anyone else. For 20-some years, I never thought this day would come. The world is a better and safer place today."
Her father, Bob Monetti, said there's still a lot of information that relatives need to know.
"There are a number of people who were involved in the bombing who have not been arrested or captured," he said.
Weipz said Gadhafi's death still doesn't end the Lockerbie story.
"Ultimately, the one thing I hope is he had evidence on him," she said. "All the families really want to know the truth of how this happened. That has been our motto since 1988, and it remains our motto in 2011."
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged assistance to Libya's leaders as they work to form a new government.
"Today is a day to remember all of Gadhafi's victims," he said. "We should also remember the many, many people who died at the hands of this brutal dictator and his regime."
Bert Ammerman, whose brother, Tom, died in the bombing, praised President Barack Obama with the military action that resulted in the death of Gadhafi, as well as that of Osama Bin Laden.
"He eliminated bin Laden; he's now eliminated Gadhafi. That's the right way to go," he said. "We never again should occupy these countries; we should use our technology, our intelligence and work through an allied group like NATO. And if we do that we will eliminate, I think, future areas of state-sponsored terrorism."
Cohen said she spent an anxious morning devouring news reports that initially hinted — but could not confirm — that Gadhafi was dead.
"This was sort of like Dracula: Is Dracula really dead?" she asked. "It's great now that we know. I didn't want him to go to a trial. When you have a tyrant, a monster like him, we're all better off with him dead. Now there can be no illusion of him ever returning to power."
News of Gadhafi's death was met joyously by members of Southern California's small Libyan-American community. Most will not return to Libya, but all have friends or relatives there.
"Every family that I know is happy. We were calling each other at 4:30 this morning ... congratulating each other," said Idris Traina, president of the Libyan-American Association of Southern California.
Parry reported from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Shawn Marsh and Larry Rosenthal in Trenton, Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and David Stringer in London.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.