Yusef Staine, 20, of West Babylon, was fatally shot early...

Yusef Staine, 20, of West Babylon, was fatally shot early Wednesday by a traveling companion on an LIRR train, police said. Credit: Family photo

A West Babylon man shot dead by a traveling companion aboard an Long Island Rail Road train at the Ronkonkoma station "had so much potential," a close friend said Thursday. And police continued searching for the suspected shooter as new details emerged about the moments before the killing.

A source with knowledge of the investigation said the victim and the shooter appeared to have no disputes before the shooting and video from the scene shows the gunfire "comes out of nowhere."

Yusef Staine, 20, was pronounced dead shortly after the shooter opened fire just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to Suffolk police.

Staine and the yet-unidentified suspect traveled from Penn Station to Ronkonkoma early Wednesday morning before immediately crossing over from the eastbound track to a waiting westbound train leaving for Manhattan at 1:51 a.m., the source said.

Cameras on both trains captured the travels of the individuals and investigators were able to determine there did not appear to be a dispute between them at any point, the source said.

"They are cheerily having conversation among themselves … And then you see them cross over the platform and get onto to the second train where this incident occurred," the source said. "And on this second train as well, until the moment of the shooting, there is no indication of an issue between the two of them. There is no conflict between these two people until the shooting."

On Thursday, police offered no updates on the case and have yet to provide a description of the suspect or reveal details about the relationship with the victim.

Michael Thompson, of Wheatley Heights, said he was best friends with Staine at Wyandanch Middle School.

He recalled Staine as someone enamored with writing and recording hip-hop music.

"He just loved making music," Thompson said. "It was his passion. For a talent like that to go to waste hurts because he had so much potential. For this to happen, it just hurts so bad."

Wyandanch High School Principal Paul Sibblies recalled Staine as a "respectful young man who never gave me any problems in the school."

Staine's mother, Pamela Usher, previously worked in the kitchen at the high school as a nutritionist, Sibblies said.

"I am floored that he lost his life in this manner," said Sibblies, who has counseled several current students about Staine's death. "It's really a sad thing."

Jennifer Lampert of Smithtown, an overnight taxi cab dispatcher with Village Transportation, which has an office just off the Ronkonkoma LIRR platform, said she heard two gunshots Wednesday morning.

Moments later, a female passenger who had arrived on the 1:37 a.m. eastbound train, rushed into the dispatch office and described seeing the shooter run west toward Railroad Avenue.

"I heard the pop-pop. I used to be an EMT in the city and I know what gunshots sound like," Lampert said. " … She was very distressed so I locked my office door and I called 911."

Staine's mother and other relatives did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

She issued a brief statement Wednesday to reporters, urging the shooter to "come forward."

The fatal shooting was the first on an LIRR train since Colin Ferguson’s 1993 onboard rampage near the Merillon Avenue station left six people dead and another 19 injured.

Felony assaults on the LIRR more than doubled from 10 in 2020 to 21 last year, according to MTA police.

MTA Assistant Police Chief Gary Beahanli said that of the 21 incidents, 14 involved an assault of an LIRR employee or police officer.

LIRR union officials have said aggression toward train crews increased during the pandemic, in part because of confrontations over the railroad’s mask policy.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the LIRR's largest union, said the shooting shows the need for more police on the LIRR.

"They've taken so many MTA police and put them in the subways that commuter rails are being shortchanged," Simon said. "And safety is really a problem. Our conductors are put in harms way every day and we need more police patrolling. It's a sad day when a 20-year-old boy loses his life and that could have been one of our crew."

Metropolitan Transportation Authority, MTA police recently launched an initiative to have more cops ride LIRR trains.

MTA spokesman Tim Minton said the safety of train crews and riders is a "paramount priority" to the agency.

"This was a tragic, if isolated, event in which perpetrator and victim had been traveling together for some time prior to the incident," Minton said. "MTA Police officers routinely patrol all branches of the LIRR and starting late last year the MTAPD surged additional patrols on board trains to further enhance security."

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