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Saturday Marks 20th Anniversary of LIRR Massacre

Residents reflect on a shooting rampage that left six commuters dead and 19 injured after mass murderer Colin Ferguson opened fire on a train heading for the Merillon Avenue station.

Wreaths are placed at the Merillon Avenue LIRR Station in Garden City on the morning of Dec. 7, 2013, the 20th Anniversary of the LIRR Massacre. Photo credit: Geoffrey Walter
Wreaths are placed at the Merillon Avenue LIRR Station in Garden City on the morning of Dec. 7, 2013, the 20th Anniversary of the LIRR Massacre. Photo credit: Geoffrey Walter
December 7, 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Colin Ferguson's shooting rampage on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train due to arrive the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City.

Ferguson shot 25 passengers aboard the train, killing six.

After he attempted to reload his 9mm pistol for a third time he was wrestled to the ground by three men and held until police arrived.

Ferguson was convicted of murder and attempted murder in February 1995 and is serving a 315 years and 8 months to life sentence at the Upstate Correctional Facility in Franklin County, NY.

Garden City mayor John Watras said he caught an early train home that day to to make the holiday tree lighting ceremony on New Hyde Park Road. "I will never forget the day as long as I live," he said. "My prayers and best wishes go out to everybody."

Deputy Mayor Nick Episcopia was on the 6:40 p.m. train home. When he passed the Merillon Avenue station on the way to Mineola that's when he saw the lights and wondered what was going on.

"My wife picked me up and said what happened," he said. "When we turned on News12 I saw a man I knew being placed in an ambulance. Also, one of our daughter's friends wound up hiding under a pile of men, one of whom was shot. She had a hard time recovering from the trauma."

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said the "vivid picture of the tragic and senseless deaths of six commuters and injuries to 19 others still reverberates on the families and neighbors affected.”

“We must not forget the heroism of the commuters who subdued the gunman even as we look back upon the shock to the community this heinous crime inflicted,” he added.

For Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband in the tragedy, the anniversary is a reminder of how that day forever changed her life, and the lives of so many families on Long Island.

"I came to Congress following the LIRR shooting to help to usher in commonsense reforms to prevent senseless tragedy in this country, and I am proud to say, Congress has since taken modest steps to help do so," she said.

"Twenty years later, I know there is much more for our nation to accomplish in this light, but as I reflect further on that infamous day I cannot help but to feel not only fortunate that my miracle, my son Kevin, is alive today, but also blessed to have two beautiful grandchildren."

Joyce Gorycki, who also lost her husband in the rampage, said the incident was an "unspeakable tragedy."

"Using a semi-automatic weapon purchased legally, the killer emptied two 15-round magazines into the crowded train of commuters heading home that evening, killing six and injuring 19," she said.

Gorycki, now a New Yorkers Against Gun Violence board member, said she's proud of the role the advocacy group played in making the NY SAFE Act a reality.

"Today, thanks to the New York SAFE Act, Colin Ferguson could not have legally purchased his 15-round magazines in New York State. The NY SAFE Act--the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act--bans military-style assault weapons, limits the size of ammunition magazines and requires background checks on all gun and ammunition sales."

Commuters, families and residents will pay homage to the victims Saturday in their own way. Congresswoman McCarthy will likely hang a wreath on the station's platform, as she's done for so many years.

A screening of the new film, Long Island Railroad Massacre, will be shown in Huntington at the Cinema Arts Centre at 2 p.m. Filmmaker Charlie Minn will also speak. The film opened Nov. 15 at Merrick Cinemas.

For William Lee, whose father took that train every day to and from work but "just missed that one day" Dec. 7, 2013 is a time to reflect. "He knew everybody in that car that was killed," he said.

Francis S.Y. Lee passed away last November and William planted a tree along the LIRR right of way near the Garden City Bird Sanctuary in memory of his father, near the spot on the platform where his father would always exit the train. "For all those years that's where he would've been standing," William said.

The tree, a Poplar, was planted last year. William said the marker hasn't been installed yet because he's still working on the verbiage, including Chinese characters he'd like to include on it.

William, a member of Garden City High School's Class of 1971, thinks a line of memorial trees for people who commuted on that train could be an appropriate tribute and is trying to get in touch with victims' families. "They might have an interest," he said. "There's room for at least a dozen more."

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