Friday, December 21, 2012

Back Story: The LIRR Shooter

On the evening of December 7, 1993, a maniac named Colin Ferguson, opened fire with a handgun in a crowded Long Island Rail Road commuter train car, killing six passengers on their way home from work and wounding 19 others. This happened as the train was pulling into the Merillon Ave. station  in Garden City, NY, the town where I lived through my high school years and where my youngest sister lived at that time and still lives. On the night of the shooting, I was living in Stewart Manor, a tiny community on the western border of Garden City. My home was about a mile-and-a-half from the shooting; my sister’s house was probably about the same distance. She commuted on that line; I commuted on one that ran parallel to it, about a half-mile to the south. Garden City is also home to Adelphi University, from which Ferguson had been suspended in 1991.

On that night, I boarded a train that left from Penn Station in Manhattan, just a few minutes before the fatal train pulled out. Ferguson departed from the Atlantic Avenue Station in Brooklyn around the same time. He would change trains at the Jamaica Station, where all three trains were scheduled to converge. It is my theory that he was headed for Adelphi University where he’d had a number of incidents, perceived by him to have been racially motivated. He was an immigrant from the country of Jamaica, who, it was reported, had often ranted about racism, and made racially motivated threats. His increasingly erratic behavior was the reason why he had been kicked out of the school, two years before.

Drawing is not to scale.

In order to get to Adelphi, Ferguson should have been on my train. I believe that he either boarded the wrong train at Jamaica by mistake, something that was easy to do, or he missed my train and got on the other one as an alternative. He would have been going to the Nassau Blvd. Station on my line in order to get to Adelphi. The Merillon Ave. Station is also at Nassau Blvd. a half-mile north. Both stops are in Garden City.

The shooting started just about the time I arrived home and soon the evening news, much as with the recent Newtown shootings, was full of nothing else. Friends from all over the country were emailing and calling me to be sure I was okay. I was concerned about my sister. Fortunately, she had taken a different train.

Killed on that night was a man named Dennis McCarthy. His son, who had been travelling with him, was seriously wounded. McCarthy’s wife, Carolyn, went on to become a noted gun control activist. She became my Congresswoman, when she switched parties and ran against a Republican who received campaign funding from the NRA. All this happened almost 20 years ago. Carolyn McCarthy is still in Congress, fighting the good fight. She and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence are our best hope to reinstate the assault weapons ban and pass other measures to lessen the chances that events like the Long Island Rail Road shooting and Newtown ever happen again.

After a bizarre trial, where he represented himself, Ferguson was convicted of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder and will never again see the light of day  as a free man.

As for me, when I look back, I think how lucky I was. The way things played out at Merillon Avenue, I believe that Ferguson started shooting when he realized he was on the wrong train. If he had been on his intended train, my train, I might even have sat next to him. However, I would have gotten off at Stewart Manor, and he probably would have continued on to the next stop, Nassau Blvd, gotten off, and walked the few blocks to the Adelphi campus where he would have taken his revenge. But, who knows what might have set him off before he got there.


1 comment:

Harvey Paige said...

Interested folks can see what a terribly violent society we have by looking at the number of "regular" murders that occur almost every day. Check out the list at:
They may not have all of the deaths, but those they do have are identified by name, age, etc.