Wife of victim reflects on LIRR massacre 25 years after carnage

She’s on her cell phone constantly now, making calls every time a sick killer opens fire at a school, a church, a mall or a concert.

Cell phones, as we know them now, didn’t even exist when Joyce Gorycki needed one most, when a deranged man with a gun unloaded and reloaded on a crowded Long Island Rail Road train 25 years ago, and Gorycki was home wondering if her husband was going to make it home alive.

He didn’t.

Six people, including Gorycki’s husband, James, were killed that unimaginable day when gunfire filled a crowded commuter train and took chaos for a ride.

“I didn’t hear back from him,” Gorycki said. “I realized he must have been one of the victims. By 10 p.m., I already knew. It was obvious.”

She’s a gun control advocate now, a front-line soldier on the losing side of a growing war against weapons. On Friday, Gorycki and other victims’ families will lay a wreath at the Long Island station where gunman Colin Ferguson unleashed unspeakable carnage.

Colin Ferguson questions a witness at his trial in Mineola L.I.
Colin Ferguson questions a witness at his trial in Mineola L.I. (Bill Turnbull / New York Daily News)

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 onslaught had left six people dead and 19 wounded.

Ferguson, a black man 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 black mayor at the time.

He fired methodically over several minutes at as many white people as he could, reloading at least once, before the train arrived at the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City, where terrified survivors ran screaming from the exits.

Ferguson, after acting as his own lawyer in court, was convicted and sentenced to 315 years in jail. Ronald Kuby, one of Ferguson’s out-of-court legal advisers, said he occasionally gets a letter from the gunman.

“Twenty-five years ago, we were having much of this same discussion about how is it possible that somebody as crazy as Colin Ferguson could easily and quickly lay his hands on a military-grade, semiautomatic pistol, and we’re still still asking that question,” Kuby said.

“The arguments were roughly the same. One wide said we’ve got do something about guns.

The other side said we have to do something about mental health. Nothing was done about either.”

Filmmaker Charlie Minn has documented the debate. His documentary, “The Long Island Railroad Massacre,” includes in-depth interviews with survivors and victims’ relatives, and emotional discussions about lax gun laws.

“Back then, this was a shock. Today it’s a normality,” said Minn, whose high school classmate, Mi Kyung Kim, was killed in the attack. “It has only gotten worse.”

The attack launched the political career of outraged mom and gun control advocate Carolyn McCarthy. After McCarthy’s husband, Dennis, was killed, and son, Kevin, was severely injured, she ran for Congress, where she served for 18 years.

McCarthy declined to comment.

Gorycki said she still rides the train, but the memories of that day are on her mind before she steps on the platform. She doesn’t need an anniversary to remind her of the tragedy. She gets that every time another mass shooting makes the headlines.