Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tragedies, New and Old

NEW YORK, June 28 — Tonight we were going to write about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the school integration cases decided today, which is, in many ways, a striking national tragedy. It deserves more complete treatment than we can give it now, and two other tragedies have gripped our minds today as well, compelling more immediate thoughts. So, for now, let me point you to The New York Times coverage of the schools decisions here and The Christian Science Monitor's coverage here.

Now, however, we must turn to the new tragedy — five stunning, brand-new high school graduates killed in a fiery crash half an hour from their homes two towns away from our hometown. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle has comprehensive coverage here and The New York Times ran covered the sadness on the front page of the metro section, here.

We saw the news first on the D&C's site yesterday, shortly after it broke. Read the NYT story this morning at work, online, without opening the print copy until moments ago, greeted by the nearly half-page spread with the victims' photographs from their yearbook and their Fairport, N.Y., friends locked in a grief-filled embrace.

It never makes sense when a teenager dies. Last week this time, they were celebrating their proudest moment together, graduating high school. A week later, the principal of Fairport High School, told reporters that instead of their five graduation parties, he'd now be attending their five funerals. It didn't make sense when Melissa and Jason died 10 years ago. Their deaths make no more sense now, as we wrote here last week.

Hannah, Bailey, Meredith, Sara, and Katherine were headed to a cottage on Keuka Lake for some summer fun in the sun, the papers reported, but they never made it. Their deaths don't make sense now, and they probably won't make sense in 10 years, or ever. They're gone, and but for the grace of God it could have been any of us, any of our friends, brothers, sisters, loved ones. And so our hearts go out to their friends and families, with deepest sympathy.

Turning to an old tragedy, another too close to home, which ripped from life 270 souls, including 35 Syracuse University students, one of whom grew up in Webster, just north of Fairport. We write, you may know, of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy. On Dec. 21, 1988, a bomb ripped apart the 747 Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all aboard — 259 passengers and crew — and 11 on the ground below.

In the years since, a Scottish court has convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent. Now, as the NYT reports here, a review panel in Scotland has concluded that Megrahi may have been wrongfully convicted. We have yet to read the story closely, and it's no doubt more complicated than a headline and lede can express, but it provokes in us questions of whether we should let it go and whether we'll ever know even most of the truth about what brought down that plane.

At Syracuse University, 103 is part of the student experience; not just with a memorial at the heart of campus, but with an annual Remembrance Week, full of active engagement of the issues and ideas surrounding the tragedy.

We're admittedly too close to it to examine this most recent development objectively, but a simple conclusion jumps out: if the conviction was a miscarriage of justice, then let's examine it to figure out the real story. If it was not, let's examine it anyway, as painful as it is, to make sure we got the real story right the first time.

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