In the early evening of Dec. 7, 1993, Terry Sullivan sat in the middle of the third car of a packed Long Island Rail Road commuter train heading east from Penn Station to Mineola when a commotion woke him.
The sounds came from the back of the train as it was slowing to let passengers off at the Merillon Avenue Station in Garden City. Colin Ferguson, armed with an automatic handgun at the east end of the third car of the train, had begun shooting passengers.
That account of what came to be known as the Long Island Rail Road Massacre after six people were killed is from Sullivan — an uninjured survivor and artist whose paintings and sketches inspired by the shootings will be on exhibit through Dec. 17 at the Molloy College Kellenberg Art Gallery in Rockville Centre.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the crime and Sullivan said he hopes the exhibit will inspire more discussion about how to stop such tragedies.
Noting the Las Vegas shooting a year ago in which 58 people were killed, the Malverne resident said, “I feel nothing has changed and we should be talking about this.”
Sullivan, 51, an art professor at Molloy College, said that after the railroad shootings, he had nightmares and had to seek professional therapy, but says the artwork on display turned out to be a huge help in his recovery from his “trauma.”
At one point, Sullivan said, Ferguson looked at him, “but chose not to point the gun at me and pull the trigger.” Sullivan said Ferguson looked away and continued shooting other passengers as he moved along the train car out of Sullivan’s sight.
He huddled against the wall with another passenger, Sullivan said, and when Ferguson ran out of bullets he was tackled by three men who pushed him down on the train seat.
“As I left the second train car and stepped onto the train platform, there was another wounded victim, shot through the ankle,'' Sullivan recalled. “Despite her wound and through her tears, she said she would be OK. To say I’d felt inadequate in helping anyone that day would be an understatement. There was just nothing I could do except maybe attempt to keep them calm.”
Months later, in the spring of 1994, Sullivan said his “inspiration struck” when he noticed a plastic foam cup with coffee leaking out on the ground.
“For some reason, the cup reminded me of commuting on the Long Island Rail Road,” Sullivan said, and the color of the coffee reminded him of blood.
The image became one that's part of a collage in the exhibit, “Still Life on the Long Island Rail Road,” and as he took the train afte the shootings, Sullivan said, “for some reason” he began also regularly sketching commuters.
“Trauma and Healing: Expression in the Face of Violence”
WHEN|WHERE 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 17 at Molloy College's Kellenberg Art Gallery, 1000 Hempstead Ave., Rockville Centre