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From the archives: They witnessed pandemonium

This story was originally published in Newsday on Dec. 8, 1993.

The passengers on the 5:33 commuter train out of Manhattan didn't hear anything, didn't know anything was wrong, until they heard the shooting.

Then it began coming fast, like popcorn exploding, as a silent gunman emptied his weapon, firing at people randomly as he walked through the third car of the train, his bullets striking them in the head or the neck, the abdomen or the arm.

"As soon as the door closed (in New Hyde Park), I heard a loud pop like a firecracker," said Lucinda Melkonian, 26, of Garden City, who was sitting in the front of the third car when the gunman began advancing up the aisle just after 6 p.m. "Someone said, 'This is real life, everybody.' My cousin and I crouched down . . . I looked up at him and saw a man with a beard. His arm was going from right to left and left to right."

Esther Confino, who was also in the third car, said the woman next to her was unconscious, and "her blood was all over me."

Confino said she covered her head and began to pray. "It sounded like twenty times, it was quite rapid," said Confino, who was returning to her home in New Hyde Park. "It stopped for a very short interval and then he started shooting again."

Anna Lomascolo, a Mineola resident who was also in the third car, said she didn't realize what was happening until shots went off. "I don't know what happened or why he did it," she said. "As soon as he started shooting, I went underneath my seat. People were screaming and telling other people to stay down."

The pause came as the gunman was reloading, according to witnesses, but he soon began firing again. "The shots just kept coming off," passenger Diane McCleary told WCBS-TV. "There were bodies all over. People shot in the head. It was disgusting. The girl next to my father was blown away."

Then, as suddenly as it had started, the rampage ended when, after the gunman had emptied his weapon a second time, three men jumped on him and wrestled him into a seat.

"Somebody ran and pinned the gunman and held him aginst a seat," said Kevin McHugh of New Hyde Park, who said he was standing just six feet away.

But the panic the massacre ignited wasn't quelled immediately. From the first shots, before the train even neared Merillon Station in Garden City, commuters stumbled over each other as they fled.

"People were scrambling forward. It was pandemonium. It was crazy," said Paul Basile, 26, of Garden City, who was riding in one of the front cars. "It was surreal. It was crazy. Then, all of a sudden you realized it was real."

Passengers in neighboring cars were startled by the mass exodus. Many had not even heard the gunshots, and saw only a wall of frightened fellow passengers heading for the rear of the train.

Riding in the fourth car, one car away, Peggy Richards of Westbury said people were screaming. In the fifth car, Jerry Rubin of Mineola said the crush of people trying to escape as the train pulled into Merillon Avenue station was like an avalanche.

"People were screaming, 'Open the doors.' Nobody realized what the hell was going on until they started bringing out the bodies," said Rubin. "It was like a slaughterhouse."

In the sixth car, commuters there only saw other passengers rushing by. "People were running into our car with blood on them. People wre screaming and crying," said Michael Gullo of Carle Place.

As far back as the eighth car, passengers were oblivious, concerned only that the train hadn't made it's scheduled 6:08 p.m. arrival time.

"We were all moaning about the train being late. No one realized how grave the situation really was," Bruce Burns, of Mineola, told Cablevision's News 12.

Passengers were screaming for the doors to open, and when they finally did, passengers spilled out onto the platform at Merillon Avenue, where the carnage was clear. "I saw three men slumped over, all shot in the head. Next to them was a girl slumped over, she was shot. Underneath them was a woman slumped on the floor shot," said Richards, who said she looked into the third car when she got out onto the platform.

"There was one lady screaming - another man and I helped her out."

Jerry Hollwedel, heading home to Mineola on the train, said he stepped onto the platform and immediately saw people who appeared to have been shot.

"I saw a person slumped against the railing on the platform," Hollwedel said. Then Hollwedel saw another person, a woman. "They weren't moving."

"I heard people say, 'There's a guy with a gun,' and I heard other people say, 'Help me, he's been shot.' It was a woman," Hollwedel said.

As Hollwedel headed down the stairs toward ground level, he saw at least three more people lying on the grass. One, a man, was on his side and he had blood on his chest. A woman lying face-down next to the man wasn't moving, Hollwedel said, and a woman standing over her was trying to comfort her.

"I started shaking," he said. "I was petrified."

Contributing to this story were: Sylvia Adcock, James Bernstein, Rebecca Blumenstein, Rick Brand, Joe Calderone, Tom Demoretcky, Maureen Fan, Dan Fagin, Susan Forrest, Alexander C. Kafka, Wendy Lin, Alfred Lubrano, John McDonald, Bill Mason, Phil Mintz, Shirley E. Perlman, Liam Pleven, Jim Puzzanghera, Yolanda RodriVguez, Andrew Smith, Estelle Lander Smith, Otto Strong, Curtis L. Taylor, Beth Whitehouse, Kinsey Wilson, Olivia Winslow, Ellen Yan and Gwen Young.

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