Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy speaks about gun violence before students at...

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy speaks about gun violence before students at Mineola High School, calling on their help to ban high-capacity ammunition clips. (February 4, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Victims. That's what Carolyn McCarthy calls the stunned and shattered families left behind by those who kill.

Like those left behind by a man who police say robbed a pharmacy in Medford on Father's Day, leaving four dead behind him.

The dead are dead, long to be remembered with sadness, even longer to be remembered with joy. It's the living, the families, McCarthy said, who are victims.

She should know. Long before McCarthy was elected to Congress, she became a victim, too.

"I heard the news about Medford on the television, and it brought me back to that moment I was told about my husband and about my son," she said Friday. "It's a place that most victims don't want to go."

On Dec. 7, 1993, as a Long Island Rail Road train pulled into the Merillon Avenue station, Colin Ferguson pulled out a gun and started firing. He killed six and wounded 19 before being stopped by three passengers.

Among the dead was McCarthy's husband, Dennis, an office manager, who was 52. Among the wounded was the commuter sitting beside McCarthy, the couple's son, Kevin.

"You don't want to believe it," McCarthy said. "You go to a place and never come back. You go over it for the rest of your life."

Last week, during the arraignment of David Laffer, the suspect in the Medford case, the family of Jaime Taccetta, including her 16-year-old daughter, Miranda, sat in the courtroom.

"The victims will look at him, like I did Ferguson, and they'll be thinking, 'Why, why did he do this?' " McCarthy said. "Nothing can prepare anyone for this, the emotional ups and downs."

Victims, McCarthy said, have to get through funerals. Through court proceedings. And through the reality that Mom isn't home, that Dad won't be at practice or that a child won't be graduating college or walking down the aisle in a wedding.

"I hate the word closure; there's never any closure," said McCarthy. "Hopefully, victims get through it with time, but there's no way to get through the reality that he's not there, or that Mom's not going to be cooking dinner."

McCarthy said she was blessed, in a way, because she spent the next few weeks after the LIRR shooting with her son, who was seriously injured. She did not go to court for Ferguson's arraignment. But she did, at some point, hear on television that Ferguson was complaining about conditions at the jail.

"I don't know if it's because I hadn't had time to cry, but I lost it," she said. "I'm looking at the TV and I'm saying, 'How can you complain? My husband is dead! My son is fighting for his life!' "

Victims have pain. They cry, McCarthy said.

"They are our neighbors," she said, referring to four families bound together now by the Father's Day massacre. "They are doing things now that they shouldn't be," she said, like attending funerals and settling into courthouse benches. "It becomes a living nightmare," she said.

After her husband died, McCarthy said, she wanted to know everything about how he died. Later, she said, she learned that other victims want to know the same things.

"You want to know what happened in those last moments, where the wounds are, whether they suffered," she said. "I asked and a detective asked me why. He thought it would be better if I didn't know."

She told him, "It's the last thread of his life and I'd rather know because it will be worse in my imagination."

McCarthy's glad her husband was sleeping when he was killed. "He did not suffer," she said. McCarthy still worries about her son. "He woke up and held his hand up to protect himself," she said. "But he still knows that his dad died on his shoulder."

McCarthy won election to Congress on a gun control platform. Every year, on Dec. 7, she lights a candle in memory of her husband, in memory of everyone who died with him.

"Sometimes, pain can galvanize victims," McCarthy said. "You realize that your pain is no different from other victims' pain and you want to do something about it."

And then, suddenly, McCarthy has a memory. It's her husband, Dennis, jumping rope outside the back of the house to get into shape. There's laughter in her voice as she describes his efforts.

"He was in the best health ever the day he was killed," McCarthy said. "I hadn't thought about that for years."