A Long Island Rail Road passenger aboard a Penn Station-bound train early Wednesday was shot dead by his traveling companion in Ronkonkoma, prompting a search for the shooter, Suffolk police said. Newsday's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: James Carbone

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo, Matthew Chayes, Shari Einhorn and John Valenti. It was written by Brodsky.

An LIRR passenger aboard a Penn Station-bound train early Wednesday was shot dead by his traveling companion as the train sat at the Ronkonkoma station, prompting a search for the shooter that continued into the night, Suffolk police said.

The victim, identified by police as Yusef Staine, 20, of West Babylon, was declared dead at the scene.

The shooter fled the Long Island Rail Road train heading north, Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer, head of the department's homicide squad, said at the scene Wednesday morning, as a police helicopter hovered above.

"I'd like to stress that this is not a random event," Beyrer said. "No other passengers were in danger. There were only two or three other passengers on the train at the time. … This appears to be an isolated event."

Wednesday night, police said the suspected shooter remained on the loose. A description of the suspect was not immediately available. Police did not reveal the relationship between the victim and the alleged shooter.

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

Wednesday's shooting occurred about 1:45 a.m. on a 1:51 a.m. train that had yet to depart for Penn Station, authorities said.

Fifth Precinct officers responded to a 911 call from a taxi dispatcher about a man shot at the station, Beyrer said. The department's Emergency Services, Aviation and K-9 units, along with police from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also responded.

"It's early in the investigation but all we know is that the two people appear to be traveling together," Beyrer said.

MTA Police said a person was seen running from the train following the shooting, but it's unclear whether that individual was involved — or a passenger fleeing the scene.

Surveillance cameras were visible at the station Wednesday and LIRR trains are equipped with security cameras. Suffolk police declined to say if they were reviewing surveillance footage.

A family provided photo of victim Yusef Staine, 20, of West...

A family provided photo of victim Yusef Staine, 20, of West Babylon Credit: Family photo

At her Wyandanch home, Staine's mother, Pamela Usher, declined to comment but released a statement.

"He was killed," she said, "and we need the person who did it to come forward."

Firearms are prohibited on LIRR trains and at stations, according to the MTA.

"No persons, except for those licensed to do so and in immediate possession of such license, shall bring into or carry in a terminal, station or train any firearms or other weapons," according to LIRR regulations.

No one answered the door at Staines' home in West Babylon Wednesday and neighbors said they were not familiar with him.

Construction worker Jason Kahles arrived at the Ronkonkoma station a few hours after the shooting, only to find his 4:40 a.m. train had been assigned to a different track than usual.

"Then I noticed the yellow tarp, and I was like, ‘Oh, boy. Something happened,'" said Kahles, 44, of Middle Island, referencing a tarp hung on the train’s doors to block the view of the crime scene.

Kahles took a couple photos of the train, including one in which "you can see that there’s blood on the floor."

He said the shooting conjured up memories of the 1993 LIRR massacre.

"That was kind of like the first thing that I thought of," Kahles said. "It brings you back."

Kahles said the situation was "a little concerning," but added that he generally felt safe traveling to and from Ronkonkoma station during the early morning hours.

Charlton D'souza, president of Passengers United, a transit advocacy group, said the lack of MTA police on the Main Line patrolling stations after dark has been a safety concern for years.

"The LIRR should hire private security guards to patrol some stations like Mineola, Hempstead and Hicksville at night," D'souza said in a statement. "We are outraged that a taxi cab dispatcher outside the station had to call 911. We wonder where were the train crews at the time and maybe for the future train doors should be closed until departure."

In response to D'souza's criticism, MTA spokesman Eugene Resnick said "MTA Police officers regularly patrol all branches of the LIRR."

MTA officials would not address whether that includes overnight police patrols on the Main Line.

Deandra Warberton, a nurse from Holtsville, said she'd taken the train for two years without incident.

"This is insane," she said. "I am speechless right now. It’s very scary."

Nicole Garcia of Patchogue typically arrives back at the Ronkonkoma station around midnight following school but planned to come back earlier Wednesday because of safety concerns.

"It's really late and kind of scary," Garcia said.

A heavy law enforcement contingent convened on the scene Wednesday morning, as crime scene tape surrounded the westbound platform and LIRR parking lot.

A Suffolk County police mobile command post was parked at the train station and Commissioner Rodney Harrison was seen coming in and out without talking to the media.

The county medical examiner’s office was also on the scene along with a Crime Lab vehicle.

The LIRR eastbound and westbound trains were continuing to operate on a single track as detectives continued their investigation of the shooting scene.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this shooting to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS.

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