ON DEC. 23, IN THE OFFICE OF FBI ASSISTANT Director James Kallstrom, Julie Stuart opened a leather jeweler's box and stared in awe at the 1.7-carat diamond engagement ring within. Turning tearfully to Marge Gross, the woman who would have been her sister-in-law, Stuart held out her hand. "Andy wanted to be here to do this, Julie," said Gross quietly as she slid the $15,000 ring onto Stuart's finger. "He will love you forever."

The impromptu ceremony marked a poignant finale for Stuart, 31, a Bridgewater, Conn., human-resources manager for a local bearing manufacturer. Her fiancé, engineering manager Andrew Krukar, 40, had intended to propose to her and give her the ring last July on a romantic trip to France. Krukar left alone for Europe on business, and she was to follow, but his plane, TWA Flight 800, fell into the sea near New York, killing all 230 aboard. Although Krukar's body wasn't recovered for weeks, the ring box that had been in his briefcase bobbed to the surface because of a tiny piece of bubble wrap tucked inside. Divers found it the morning after the crash, and when Stuart saw a photo of the ring in a French magazine, she knew it was hers. "My first concern was to find out who had it," she says. "And then to try to get it back."

That proved painfully difficult. Stuart tracked down the ring to an FBI safe in Calverton, N.Y. But the FBI insisted on holding it for evidence, and no one—not even President Clinton, to whom she wrote for help could intervene. As a last resort, Stuart and Gross drove to a news conference last September on Long Island, where Kallstrom was speaking. Privately they explained the problem, and he later promised to return it by Christmas. "I was told Jim Kallstrom was a man of his word," says Stuart, but she was skeptical. "Everyone else had been promising I'd get my ring back too."

As the holiday neared, Stuart nearly lost hope. But then, just before Christmas, an FBI agent arrived to drive her, her parents, Bill and Joanna Stuart, and Marge Gross to Kallstrom's office in the Federal Building in Manhattan. When they arrived, he handed over the antique-style ring. "It was bigger and more beautiful than I'd imagined," says Stuart. "There wasn't a mark on it, with the fire and water and everything. No one even had to clean it."

Andy lives on in the ring, and in more important ways. The Stuart and Krukar families built a trail in his memory at a local nature center, and the company where the couple worked established a scholarship in his name. Stuart remains close with his family, but, sadly, she no longer has contact with his sons Kyle, 13, and Jared, 15, who are moving out of state with their mother, Krukar's ex-wife. "I miss them so much," says Stuart. "We'd gotten so close."

Still, the jewelry has brought her a measure of peace. "I know Andy wanted me to have this ring," says Stuart. "We were so in love. And I do think it was his last wish come true."

CURTIS RIST
ANNE LONGLEY in Connecticut

  • Contributors:
  • Anne Longley.