MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Before Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and Newtown, there was the Long Island Rail Road.
On Dec. 7, 1993, a gunman opened fire on a train car filled with commuters leaving New York City. By the time passengers tackled Colin Ferguson, his fusillade had left six people dead and 19 wounded.
One of the dead was Joyce Gorycki’s husband, James.
“They came to the door. I said, ‘is he dead? They said ‘yes,’ and I fell to the floor,” she told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan on Friday.
Though other massacres have far superseded it in terms of casualties, there are aspects of the railcar shooting that, even two decades later, that make it stand out in the sad pantheon of rampages that have horrified the nation.
“In a mall or a school or a movie theater, there is at least some opportunity for hiding or escaping,” said James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “These people had nowhere to go.”
Ferguson, who boarded the train in Queens, claimed that he waited to open fire until the train crossed over the New York City border out of respect for David Dinkins, the mayor at the time.
He fired methodically over several minutes, reloading at least once, before the train arrived at the next station, where terrified survivors ran screaming from the exits.
Lisa Combatti was one of the passengers that night. She said she came face to face with Ferguson as he carried out his murderous rampage.
“I could see Colin Ferguson walking down the aisle shooting from right to left back and forth,” she told CBS 2’s Dave Carlin.
Combatti was shot in the hip. She was seven and a half months pregnant.
“What I was thinking was that I wasn’t going to be a mother, that I wasn’t going to have this baby, that I wasn’t going to live, she said.
She told Carlin she still calls daughter, Kim, her miracle baby.
At his trial, Ferguson defended himself in court, cross-examining the very people he terrorized.
Ferguson, now 55, is serving his sentence at the Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, N.Y., not far from the Canadian border.
In addition to six consecutive terms of 25 years to life, he received the maximum of 50 years for 19 counts of attempted murder, two weapons charges and one of reckless endangerment. He is eligible for parole in 2309.
A new documentary featuring Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son seriously wounded in the attack, debuted this week at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington. Victims of the shooting are expected to attend a special screening of the film on Saturday.
“It’s something you never get over. It never goes away. People say there is closure. There is never closure,” Thomas Cook, McCarthy’s brother, told McLogan.
In 1996, McCarthy, then a suburban housewife, made gun control the centerpiece of her successful bid for Congress. That inspired Joyce Gorycki, who is now local chair of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, which fights for background checks.
“I had to live with this terrible thing that my husband was killed, for no reason, because this man was allowed to get a gun and shoot people, and it still goes on to this day,” she said.
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