Ever since her 20-year-old daughter was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb in 1988, Susan Cohen has been reading up daily on Moammar Khaddafy. She got the welcome news Thursday: He was dead.
And she planned to keep a promise she made to herself long ago.
"I'm just going to go out and buy an expensive bottle of champagne to celebrate," said Cohen, of the town of Cape May Court House.
Pan Am Flight 103 was carrying her daughter, Theodora, and 258 other people from London to New York when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing all 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 Khaddafy'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 thorn in the side of American officials and relatives of the victims. Many relatives, like Cohen, have been spending hollow days since 1988, waiting for Khaddafy to be brought to some semblance of justice.
"I would get up each day and run to the computer and look up any news articles about what was going on with him: reading, reading reading, every day, waiting for this," she said.
Kara Weipz, of Mount Laurel, N.J., whose 20-year-old brother, Richard Monetti, was a Syracuse University student aboard the flight, said she was stunned to hear of the dictator's death.
"Talk about shock!" she said.
Weipz said 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, of Cherry Hill, says 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.
Two weeks ago, Monetti opened a nursery school with his daughter in Mount Laurel, using funds he received in Khaddafy's monetary settlement with the victims' families, a deal reached years after the bombing.
Weipz agreed, adding that Khaddafy's death still doesn't close the book on Lockerbie.
"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 Khaddafy'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 of River Vale, N.J., whose brother, Tom, died in the bombing, said Thursday was a day he had longed for.
"I never thought I would see the day this man, this coward, would no longer be part of the world population," he said. "I can say today with a great deal of satisfaction that my brother and the other 269 people that were massacred on Dec. 21, 1988, did not die in vain.
He also hailed President Barack Obama with the military action that resulted in the death of Khaddafy, as well as that of Osama Bin Laden.
"He eliminated Bin Laden; he's now eliminated Khaddafy. 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 Khaddafy 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."
Even among people who didn't lose loved ones in the bombing, the news of Khaddafy's death brought relief.
The word was met joyously by members of Southern California's small and scattered Libyan-American community. Most have lives in the U.S. and 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," Idris Traina, 62, of Torrance, president of the Libyan-American Association of Southern California.