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Relatives of U.S. victims of London attack cope with pain and loss

Relatives of U.S. victims of London attack cope with pain and loss
Jennifer Burton, whose sister Melissa Cochran was injured and brother-in-law Kurt Cochran was killed in last week's attack outside the British Parliament, wipes away tears at a news conference in London on March 27, 2017. (Andy Rain / European Pressphoto Agency) (ANDY RAIN / EPA)

It had been the vacation of a lifetime.

Kurt Cochran and his wife, Melissa, had never traveled outside the U.S. before and their 25th wedding anniversary was something extra special to celebrate.

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The Utah couple decided to head to Europe, where they spent several weeks hopping from Scotland and Ireland to Holland, Belgium and Germany, soaking up the sights and relishing the chance to meet strangers from different cultures.

They had taken hundreds of photos and Kurt had repeatedly told his friends and family he felt like he was home.

"He was so happy the whole time," said Sandra Payne, Melissa's mother. "He was like a little kid. Just loving every moment of it. The last two weeks were just amazing for the two of them. Just perfect."

As their trip was drawing to an end, the Cochrans had one final day in London, where they wanted to take in some of the city's most iconic sites — including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

As they were crossing Westminster Bridge last Wednesday, a car officials said was driven by 52-year-old Khalid Masood mounted the curb at high speed and plowed into them in Britain's worst terrorist attack since the 2005 subway and bus bombings. Kurt was killed and Melissa was hospitalized with a cut to her head, broken ribs and leg injuries.

In total, 50 people were injured and four were killed, including police Officer Keith Palmer, who officials said was fatally stabbed by Masood just inside the gates leading to Parliament.

The British-born Masood was then shot and killed by police who say he was motivated by Islamic-related international terrorism, but acted alone. Masood was known to police and had a string of previous criminal convictions, including for assault, inflicting grievous bodily harm and weapon possession, officials said.

Authorities said Monday there was no evidence to suggest that Masood had ties to Islamic State or Al Qaeda militants and they were still appealing for anyone who had been in contact with him in recent days, weeks or months to come forward.

"I know when, where and how Masood committed his atrocities, but now I need to know why," Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said.

During a news conference at New Scotland Yard, the couple's family talked about the pain they have been grappling with since the attack last week.

"The circumstances under which he was killed obviously are horrific," said Jason McFarland, who is married to one of Melissa Cochran's sisters. "I think we all feel horrible that it happened, but it happened, and we love him still."

The family members said they became aware that Kurt and Melissa were caught up in the attack after seeing images online. They thanked the public for its outpouring of support and celebrate Kurt Cochran's life, instead of focusing on the attacker.

"[Kurt's] whole life was an example of focusing on the positive, not pretending that negative things don't exist, but not living our lives in the negative," said Clint Payne, Melissa's brother. "That's what we choose to do also."

At least a dozen relatives of the couple were present for the news conference, taking turns to speak passionately about them.

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Most of them flew to London immediately after the attack, but Melissa's parents, Dimmon and Sandra Payne, were already in the city, where they are serving as Mormon missionaries. They said Kurt was a humble man who loved creativity and wanted to make the world a better place.

Kurt's sister-in-law, Sara McFarland, said one of her most striking memories was when Kurt had performed on stage with her band in Utah wearing a powder blue tuxedo from the 1970s, complete with ruffles and a flower.

"It was so great to see him smiling on stage with us," she said. "He was happy to share in what we had created and he was so excited that we were able to accomplish something with our band."

The couple was self-employed and shared a love of music, building a recording studio business from scratch over the past 10 years, Clint Payne said on a GoFundMe page set up to support Melissa that has amassed more than $70,000 in pledges.

Participating in family occasions without Kurt will be one of the hardest things to handle, relatives said.

"He would play with all the kids, he was a magnet. Kids just ate him up," said Shantell Payne, Melissa's sister. "That's really going to be a tough one for our little family members."

Jennifer Burton, another sister of Melissa's, said the family was focusing on getting Melissa strong enough to return home.

"She's a fighter," Burton said.

Boyle is a special correspondent.

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