Obituaries
    Next Score View the next score

    Daniel Cohen, who sought justice for Pan Am bombing victims

    NEW YORK — Daniel Cohen, a children’s book author who exhaustively sought justice for his 20-year-old daughter and the 269 other victims of the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, died Sunday in Cape May, N.J. He was 82.

    His wife, Susan Cohen, said the cause was sepsis. He also had a stroke in 2009 that had left him largely unable to speak.

    Theodora Cohen, who was known as Theo, was a Syracuse University student flying home from a semester in London when a bomb exploded at 31,000 feet on Dec. 21, 1988. The bombing killed all 259 passengers and crew members and 11 people on the ground.

    Advertisement

    “I felt like killing myself,” Susan Cohen said in a telephone interview. “It was Daniel who said, ‘No, Susan, we fought for her when she was alive, we’ll fight for her now that she’s died.’”

    Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
    The day's top stories delivered every morning.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Mr. Cohen and his wife, who is also a freelance writer, became two of the bereaved families’ loudest voices, speaking often to the media and officials of the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and writing a book about the investigation into the explosion and their own ordeal.

    The couple relentlessly pressed investigators to identify their only child’s killers; like other families, the Cohens did not believe responsibility stopped at the single Libyan convicted of the bombing.

    But they were frustrated by what they called Bush’s inaction and Clinton’s refusal to retaliate severely enough against Libya’s dictator, Moammar Khadafy, whom they believed was guilty of state-sponsored terrorism.

    In 1998, when victims’ families and Clinton gathered at the Lockerbie Memorial Cairn at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the bombing, Mr. Cohen shook Clinton’s hand but rebuked him for his “lousy policy” regarding Libya.

    Advertisement

    “Daniel yelled at him,” Susan Cohen said. “We were the most aggressive of the families.”

    Nearly two years later, the Cohens traveled to Camp Zeist, a former NATO air base in the Netherlands, for the trial of two Libyan intelligence agents indicted in the bombing. Daniel Cohen distributed photographs of his daughter outside the courthouse.

    “This is my daughter, Theo — Theodora Cohen,” Mr. Cohen told passersby. “Now, if the trial and conviction of two low-level thugs is justice for this murder and for 269 others, fine, but I don’t think it’s going to be.”

    In early 2001, the Scottish court presiding in the Netherlands convicted only one of the two Libyans on trial, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, and acquitted the other. When Mr. Cohen learned that Megrahi had been sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison, he said, “Of course it’s not fair, but what’s fair for mass murder?”

    Daniel Edward Reba was born in Chicago on March 12, 1936. His father, Edward Reba, and his mother, Suzanne Greenberg, divorced when he was very young. Soon after that, his mother married Milton Cohen, a left-wing social reformer, and Daniel took his stepfather’s surname.

    Advertisement

    After graduating from high school in 1954, he enrolled in the University of Illinois at Navy Pier in Chicago. He later graduated from the university’s campus in Champaign-Urbana with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

    After working at Time magazine and Science Digest, Mr. Cohen began writing books — nearly all for children and teenagers — about ghosts, UFOs, the occult, ESP, vampires, werewolves, conspiracies, cloning, weather and the human genome. He wrote biographies of the astronomer Carl Sagan and Jesse Ventura, the pro wrestler who was later elected governor of Minnesota. In all, he wrote nearly 200 books.

    With his wife, Mr. Cohen wrote “When Someone You Know Is Gay,” an introduction to homosexuality that Publishers Weekly said “performs a needed service: While gay teens will read it, learn and feel less alone, the target audience is the friends and classmates of gays.”

    Their most personal book was “Pan Am 103: The Bombing, the Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family’s Search for Justice,” which recounted their dramatically altered lives without their daughter.

    “I was a kinder and gentler person before Dec. 21, 1988,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “Now I’m angry and bitter.”

    In addition to his wife, the former Susan Handler, Mr. Cohen leaves a sister, Jean Fuller.

    The Cohens and other families relived their pain and desolation in “Since: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103,” a documentary by Phil Furey that has been shown at festivals for the last two years and will be shown on television this year.

    In an interview that he recorded for the documentary in 2008, Mr. Cohen described the raw emotions he continued to feel at the loss of his daughter.

    “If you lose your parents, you become an orphan,” he said. “If your spouse dies, you’re a widow or a widower. What are you if you lose your child? What’s the name for that?”