Colin Ferguson and the Long Island Railroad Massacre

He had a long history of railing against racism

Colin Ferguson, whose December 1993 rampage on the Long Island Rail Road left six dead and 19 wounded, posed for this New York State Department of Correctional Services mug shot in April 2003.

 Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images

On Dec. 7, 1993, Colin Ferguson, a man long bothered by what he considered racism, boarded a Long Island commuter train and began shooting at the passengers with a pistol. The incident, known as the Long Island Railroad Massacre, resulted in six people killed and 19 injured.

Background

Ferguson was born on Jan. 14, 1958, in Kingston, Jamaica, to Von Herman and May Ferguson. Herman was the managing director for Hercules Agencies, a large pharmaceutical company. He was highly regarded and one of the most prominent businessmen in Jamaica.

Colin and his four brothers enjoyed many of the privileges that come with wealth in a city where extreme poverty is common. He attended Calabar High School and, from all appearances, was a good student who participated in sports. At the time of his graduation in 1974, his grade average was in the top third of his class.

Ferguson's idyllic life came to an abrupt halt in 1978, when his father was killed in a car crash. His mother died from cancer not long afterward. Soon after both parents died, Ferguson had to cope with the loss of the family fortune. All the losses left him deeply disturbed.

Move to the United States

At 23, Ferguson decided to leave Kingston and move to the U.S. on a visitor's visa, hoping for a fresh start and a good job on the East Coast. It didn't take long for his excitement to turn to frustration: The only jobs he could find were low-paying and menial, and he blamed racism in America.

Three years after his arrival in the U.S., he met and married Audrey Warren, an American citizen of Jamaican descent who understood the cultural differences that affected her husband's ability to get along. She was patient and understanding when he lost his temper and went into rages, expressing his racial bigotry toward white people who he felt stood in his way.

The couple moved to a home in Long Island, where he continued to rage about the mistreatment and disrespect he was shown by white Americans. He had been born to one of the top families in Kingston, and government and military luminaries had attended his father's funeral. But in America, he felt he was treated as nothing. His hatred toward white people was deepening.

Married bliss didn't last long for the couple. Warren found her new husband to be hostile and aggressive. They fought regularly and more than once the police were called to their home to break up a fight.

Just two years into the marriage, Warren divorced Ferguson, stating "differing social views" as the reason. Ferguson was emotionally crushed by the divorce.

He did clerical work for Ademco Security Group until Aug. 18, 1989, when he fell from a stool on the job, injuring his head, neck, and back and losing his job. He filed a complaint with the New York State Workers Compensation Board, which took years to come to a resolution. While he waited for their decision, he attended Nassau Community College.

Disciplinary Problems at College

He made the dean's list three times but was forced to quit a class for disciplinary reasons after a teacher filed a complaint that Ferguson was overly aggressive toward him in class. That prompted him to transfer to Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, in 1990, majoring in business administration. Ferguson became very outspoken about black power and his dislike of whites. When he wasn't calling everyone around him a racist, he called out for violence and a revolution to overthrow white America.

Ferguson alleged that a white woman at the library shouted racial epithets at him when he asked about a class assignment. An investigation found that no such incident had occurred.

In another incident, Ferguson interrupted a faculty member giving a presentation about her trip to South Africa, allegedly shouting, "We should be talking about the revolution in South Africa and how to get rid of the white people" and "Kill everybody white!" After fellow students tried to calm him, he chanted, "The black revolution will get you." 

In June 1991, as a result of the incident, Ferguson was suspended from school. He was invited to reapply after satisfying his suspension, but he never returned.

Brush With the Law

In 1991 Ferguson moved to Brooklyn, where he was unemployed and rented a room in the Flatbush neighborhood. At the time it was a popular area for West Indian immigrants, and Ferguson moved right into the middle, but he kept to himself, rarely saying anything to his neighbors.

In 1992 his ex-wife, who had not seen Ferguson since the divorce, filed a complaint against him, claiming he had pried open the trunk of her car. Anger was boiling up inside Ferguson, and he was nearing the breaking point. In February he was taking the subway when a woman attempted to sit in an empty seat beside him. She asked him to move over, and Ferguson began screaming at her, pressing his elbow and leg against her until the police intervened.

He attempted to get away, calling out, "Brothers, come help me!" to African-Americans on the train. He was arrested and charged with harassment. Ferguson wrote letters to the police commissioner and the NYC Transit Authority, claiming the police had brutalized him and were vicious and racist. The claims were later dismissed after an investigation.

Worker's Compensation Claim Settled

It took three years for his worker's compensation case against Ademco Security Group to be settled. He was awarded $26,250, which he found unsatisfactory. Stating that he was still suffering from pain, he met with a Manhattan attorney, Lauren Abramson, about filing another lawsuit. Abramson later said she asked a law clerk to join the meeting because she found Ferguson to be threatening and uncomfortable to be around.

When the law firm rejected the case, Ferguson accused members of the firm of discrimination. During one phone call, he referenced a massacre in California. Many at the firm began locking their inner-office doors.

Ferguson then tried to get the New York State Workers Compensation Board to reopen the case but was rejected. However, Ferguson was placed on a list of potentially dangerous people because of his aggressiveness.

Fed up with New York City, Ferguson moved to California in April 1993. He applied for several jobs but was never hired.

Gun Purchase

That same month, he spent $400 on a Ruger P-89 9 mm pistol in Long Beach. He began carrying the gun inside a paper bag after he was mugged by two African-Americans.

In May 1993, Ferguson moved back to New York City because, as he explained to a friend, he didn't like competing for jobs with immigrants and Hispanics. After he returned to New York, he seemed to be deteriorating quickly. Speaking in the third person, he went on rants about blacks striking down "their pompous rulers and oppressors." He showered several times a day and chanted continuously about "all the black people killing all the white people." Ferguson was asked to vacate his apartment by the end of the month.

The Shooting

On Dec. 7, Ferguson boarded a 5:33 p.m. Long Island commuter train leaving Pennsylvania Station for Hicksville. On his lap were his gun and 160 rounds of ammunition.

As the train approached the Merillon Avenue Station, Ferguson stood up and methodically began firing at passengers on both sides, pulling the trigger about every half second and repeating "I'm going to get you."

After emptying two 15-round magazines, he was reloading a third when passengers Michael O'Connor, Kevin Blum, and Mark McEntee tackled him and pinned him down until police arrived.

As Ferguson lay pinned to a seat, he said, "Oh God, what did I do? What did I do? I deserve whatever I get."

Six passengers died:

  • Amy Federici, a 27-year-old corporate interior designer from Mineola
  • James Gorycki, a 51-year-old account executive from Mineola
  • Mi Kyung Kim, a 27-year-old New Hyde Park resident
  • Maria Theresa Tumangan Magtoto, a 30-year-old lawyer from Westbury
  • Dennis McCarthy, a 52-year-old office manager from Mineola
  • Richard Nettleton, a 24-year-old college student from Roslyn Heights

19 passengers were injured.

The Note

Police searching Ferguson found several scraps of notebook paper in his pockets bearing headlines such as "reasons for this," "racism by Caucasians and Uncle Tom Negroes," and a scribbled reference to his February 1992 arrest that referred to "the false allegations against me by the filthy Caucasian racist female on the #1 line."

Also among the notes were the names and telephone numbers of the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, and the Manhattan law firm that Ferguson had threatened, whom he referred to as "those corrupt 'black' attorneys who not only refused to help me but tried to steal my car."

Based on the notes, it appeared that Ferguson planned to delay the killings until he was beyond the New York City limit out of respect for outgoing Mayor David Dinkins and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

Ferguson was arraigned on Dec. 8, 1993. He remained silent during the arraignment and refused to enter a plea. He was ordered held without bail. As he was escorted from the courthouse, a reporter asked him if he hated whites, to which Ferguson replied, "It's a lie."

Investigation, Trial, and Sentencing

According to trial testimony, Ferguson suffered from extreme paranoia involving many races but mostly centering on the feeling that white people were out to get him. At some point, his paranoia had pushed him into devising a plan of revenge.

To avoid embarrassing Mayor Dinkins, Ferguson had selected a commuter train headed to Nassau County. Once the train entered Nassau, Ferguson had begun shooting, selecting some white people to gun down and sparing others. The reasons for his selections were never made clear.

After a circus-like trial in which Ferguson represented himself and rambled on, often repeating himself, he was found guilty and sentenced to 315 years in prison. As of November 2018, he was in the Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, New York.