'Long Island Rail Road Massacre' documentary looks at victims' stories, gun control

Carolyn McCarthy and Joyce Gorycki are wearing winter coats and their breaths are showing in the cold as they arrive at the Merillon Avenue train station in Garden City, each bearing a holiday wreath. The women, who lost their husbands during the Long Island Rail Road shooting 20 years ago this December, hang the ornaments in a painful annual ritual. The scene is from a 90-minute film, produced by Manhasset Hills native Charlie Minn, that details the shooting debuts next month. (Nov. 1, 2013)

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Carolyn McCarthy and Joyce Gorycki arrive at the Merillon Avenue train station in Garden City, each bearing a holiday wreath.

The women, who lost their husbands during the Long Island Rail Road shooting 20 years ago this December, hang the ornaments at the station in a painful annual ritual.

"I think that it's so important to know that the grief is there," said McCarthy, the Democratic congresswoman from Mineola. "There is never closure. I hate that word and I hear it all the time. 'Well, at least this will bring closure.' It will never bring closure. How can it bring closure?"

McCarthy's declaration comes from the opening scene in a new documentary -- "Long Island Railroad Massacre" -- opening this month in three theaters.

The 90-minute film, produced by Manhasset Hills native Charlie Minn, details -- through interviews, news footage, crime scene photos and re-enactments -- the events of Dec. 7, 1993, when gunman Colin Ferguson fatally shot six people and injured 19 aboard the 5:33 p.m. train from Penn Station in what became Long Island's deadliest mass shooting.

Ferguson, who lived in Brooklyn at the time of the shooting, represented himself at trial and in 1995 was convicted of murder and sentenced to 315 years and 8 months to life.

"It's a tribute to the victims," Minn said recently about the film from his Manhattan apartment. "This is New York's worst crime before 9/11 and certainly Long Island's worst crime, and unfortunately we sit here 20 years later asking the same questions about gun violence."

In a detailed account, the film chronicles the public outcry, the police investigation, the trial, sentencing and the lasting impact of the crime on the victims and survivors.

The film also seeks to examine McCarthy's ongoing quest to push for more rigorous gun control in Congress.

"If Sandy Hook doesn't do it, what will?" Minn asked in a sit-down with McCarthy, an eight-term Democrat who was elected to Congress three years after the killings on a gun-control platform.

"I don't know," she said. "I thought Virginia Tech would," referencing the college campus massacre where a gunman killed 32 and himself.

Minn, who called McCarthy a "hero" for her advocacy on the issue, said the LIRR shooting touched him personally. He went to high school with victim Mi Kyung Kim -- and in early 2012, as the 20th anniversary approached, he decided to make the film. It was coproduced by Aaron Michael Thomas and Ken Molestina.

Minn's goals, he said, were to "give the victims a voice, revive the memory, educate people and also tell people to never forget," and he set out on the task of persuading the victims and their families to participate.

He first reached out to McCarthy, whose husband, Dennis, was killed and son, Kevin, was critically injured.

In a statement, McCarthy -- who has been undergoing lung-cancer treatments -- called the documentary "educational," and said it "helps to educate people on the effects that gun violence has on victims and their families. . . . Unfortunately, as we can see, these types of tragedies can happen anywhere and at anytime."

Gorycki, a gun-control advocate who organized annual memorials, helped Minn contact other family members and victims.

"To me it's promoting gun control," said Mineola resident Gorycki, who is also the Long Island chairwoman of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "I just don't understand why more laws aren't passed. Unfortunately they're not. I went through this tragedy and I wouldn't want anybody else to go through it."

Minn said he wrote a letter to Ferguson in prison in an attempt to interview him, curious, he said, if the passing of time had made him remorseful. (Ferguson proclaimed his innocence throughout his trial and blamed his conviction on racism.) Minn did not receive a response, he said.

In the film, Lisa Combatti, who was 7 1/2 months pregnant when she was on the train that day, recalls how she got in a fetal position to avoid the mayhem. She was shot once in the backside, and later delivered a healthy baby girl.

"When the Christmas lights go up, I start to remember it's coming," she said of the anniversary, adding she tries to ride the train around that time, "in defiance."

The "Long Island Railroad Massacre" opens Nov. 15 at the Regal E-Walk Cinema in Times Square and Merrick Cinemas for a minimum one-week run and for a single night at the Hawthorne Theater in Hawthorne, N.J.

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