Friday will mark 25 years since gunman Colin Ferguson stepped onto the Long Island Rail Road 5:33 p.m. train and began randomly firing with a 9mm pistol, killing six passengers in Garden City. Lifelong Malvernite Terry Sullivan, one of the passengers onboard, said he was planning to pick up the car of his wife, Joan — since she was getting a Christmas tree — in Mineola.
“After the stop for Jamaica, I kind of dozed off, then I heard the commotion from the back of the train and I woke up thinking, ‘What’s going on,’” said Sullivan, 26 at the time. “I saw this rush of people coming towards me, and before I knew it, I was crouched down.”
As Sullivan hid by his seat, he saw Ferguson shooting and, at one point, the two made eye contact. “He looked down at me for a brief moment,” he said, “but who knows what he was targeting . . . it was really traumatic for me. One of the things that I’ll always remember was that it sounded like a cap gun (a toy gun that simulates the sound of a gunshot)”.
Shortly after Ferguson passed Sullivan, three commuters tackled the shooter to the ground. Sullivan gave his shirt to a woman so she could cover the bullet wound on her leg.
Sullivan left the train and went to his sister-in-law’s house, Mary Pat Sullivan, in New Hyde Park. “It was very tough for my family,” he said, “but it was also good for me because they were so supportive.”
Sullivan returned to commuting days later to get to his job as an editor at Credit Union News. Every time the train slowed, the shooting replayed in his head. He saw a therapist, which he said helped to deal with nightmares and depression, but he still needed an outlet to cope with the trauma. “Artistically, I thought, ‘Well, do I forget about this?’” said Sullivan, who is also an artist.
In the summer of 1994, he took the first step of illustrating the shooting by painting, “Still Life on the Long Island Railroad.” Based on a Baroque painting, where the artist depicts a dinner table scene without guests and half-eaten food, Sullivan’s work shows a train car, with a half-eaten candy bar, coffee spilled on the floor and no passengers. “Looking at the painting now, you could tell that I was clearly depressed,” Sullivan said. “Words didn’t serve me, but the images did.”
Sullivan said that he always kept sketchbooks, and that from 1995 to 1998 he started drawing sketches of commuters on the train. “Watching people do normal things, and just documenting that,” Sullivan said, “it really was a therapeutic way to create a body of work.”
Now 51, Sullivan works as an adjunct professor in the fine arts department at Molloy College in Rockville Centre. With the increase of mass shootings in the United States, Sullivan thought it would be appropriate to share his artwork with others. He pitched the idea to Larissa Woo, the director of art galleries and permanent collections at Molloy.
“With Terry’s work, I really was impressed by the volume of his sketches and the level of detail and his connection with his fellow passengers,” Woo said. “To be that insightful, and to connect with the world around you like that, it’s almost meditative in how he analyzes and studies the passengers on the train.”
Sullivan’s exhibition, “Trauma and Healing: Expression in the Face of Violence,” which opened in October, brings together works created over the years as he came to terms with the 1993 shooting. “It’s frustrating that we still have these problems,” Woo said, “but we’re really proud that we were able to do this and share this with others.”
“In the time span from when the show opened to now, we’ve had the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, and then the Thousand Oaks (California bar),” Sullivan said. “I’m not a political kind of artist, but this is so important to have a show that could touch on these things.”
The exhibit is located on the first floor of Kellenberg Hall at Molloy College, near the north entrance, and will be open until Dec. 17. For more information, contact the gallery at email@example.com or call (516) 323-3196.