Colleen Brunner's semester in London ended last month, but she took the opportunity to spend some extra time traveling through Europe, buying Christmas presents for her parents and her seven brothers and sisters in each of the countries she visited.
In her last letter home, she promised her family she'd celebrate Christmas with them back home in the Town of Boston and said that she and all their European presents would be aboard a flight leaving London on Wednesday.
"They were really looking to have a joyous Christmas," said a family friend, Herb Klein.
Instead, Miss Brunner's family learned Wednesday that she was among the 259 passengers and crew who died when Pan Am Flight 103 crashed in Scotland. One of Miss Brunner's sisters heard the news of the plane crash on a radio report, Klein said, and the family at first held out hope that perhaps she somehow missed the flight. But when no phone call came, they had to face the inevitable.
"Her boarding the plane has been confirmed, her family is aware she was on the plane and have accepted the fact she was killed," said Ms. Brunner's pastor, the Rev. Donald Armbrewster of SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church in Hamburg.
The Rev. Sebastian Pierro, an assistant pastor at SS. Peter & Paul, spent several hours consoling the Brunner family in their Town of Boston home after they received the news Wednesday afternoon.
Miss Brunner, 20, was a junior at Oswego State College majoring in communications. She spent the last semester at Imperial College in London and finished her studies Nov. 28, according to a college spokeswoman.
But like the majority of the 46 students in the program, Miss Brunner delayed her return home. She and another Oswego State College student booked seats on the flight from Scotland Wednesday.
At Hamburg Central High School, where Miss Brunner was a varsity cheerleader and class officer, her former teachers remembered her fondly.
"Colleen was a very lovely young lady who was active in her school," said Hamburg Principal Lawrence Hood this morning. "She provided leadership for the whole school."
Miss Brunner was a member of a well-known Boston family. Her grandfather, John Fitzgerald, once served as town supervisor. Her father, Donald, owns Southtown Poultry and a restaurant, Wings and Things; two of her brothers own the Boston Garden Restaurant, and a third brother owns another restaurant called the Pizza Baron.
Miss Brunner's mother is active in the Boston Republican Party. She formerly served on the staff of Rep. Jack F. Kemp, R-Hamburg, and for the past year has handled GOP financial matters at the Erie County Board of Elections for Klein, the deputy GOP commissioner of elections.
Miss Brunnerwas a member of the Hamburg class of 1986, which already suffered through an air tragedy in their graduating year when two of its members, Christine Pittner and Tracy Ann Bates, were killed in a Mexican plane crash returning from a study tour.
For another family in the Hamburg area, the news is not so tragic today. They learned their daughter was not aboard the plane as they feared she might be.
"She didn't even know the plane crashed," George Bartokvich said shortly after talking to his daughter, Vicky, 18, a sophomore at Syracuse University, who spent the past semester studying in London through Syracuse University's Division of International Studies Abroad.
Bartokvich and his wife, Josephine, knew their daughter planned to return home from her English semester Jan. 1 -- after spending a week with relatives in Madrid.
But early Wednesday evening, some five hours after Pan Am Flight 103 went down in the small Scottish village of Lockerbie, Bartokvich said he received telephone calls from friends and family members who had heard on a local television news broadcast that a Hamburg student might be among the passengers.
At Hamburg Central this morning, Hood said teachers and staff immediately remembered the subject of that news report, Miss Brunner, as a "very personable student who was always smiling."
Miss Brunner was vice president of the junior class and served as a member of her senior class central board.
"A lot of people who knew her remembered her immediately and we're shocked to hear the news," her principal said.
Klein, who drove Mrs. Brunner home Wednesday after she heard the news about her daughter, said she recalled Miss Brunner's last phone call home.
"She had been at the Vatican, had just come from Mass and having her picture taken with the pope," Klein said. "Somehow the telephone call got cut off. But she called her back and said, 'Mom, I called back just to say I love you.' That was the sort of kid she was."