NEW YORK -- A gunman walked down the aisle of a crowded Long Island Rail Road commuter train yesterday evening, firing at random as rush-hour passengers screamed in terror, sought refuge in rest rooms and fled from car to car for their lives. At least four people were slain and as many as a dozen others were wounded.
Riders described overwhelming panic as the 5:33 p.m. train from New York City's Penn Station neared Port Jefferson on Long Island.
"The guy just went berserk," Diane McCleary, a passenger, told WCBS-TV. "The shots just kept going off. He would not stop shooting."
Others witnesses said the gunman, who was eventually overpowered by some of the riders, stopped to reload and continued shooting. Blood on the windows of the train indicated the carnage.
The gunman, in police custody, was not immediately identified.
At least five of the wounded were in critical condition in local hospitals near Garden City, N.Y., where the incident occurred. Tens of thousands of other riders were delayed as rail service in both directions was halted. Ambulances, police officers and relatives converged on the scene.
Passengers described scenes of stark terror as riders -- some bloody -- raced into their cars fleeing the gunman.
A shaken woman passenger, who escaped unharmed, said, "A man came in and he had blood on his hand and he said, 'Get up! Someone is shooting a gun.' He said, 'Run! run! . . . More and more people kept piling into the car and kept running forward trying to get to the front of the train, trying to get away from where this is happening. . . .
"People ran into the bathroom and locked the doors. I just kept running to try to get away. We were screaming. Everyone was in the front car screaming, 'Open the door! Open the door!' "
The woman said that when the conductor hesitated, another passenger ripped open a panel, pulled some wires and the doors opened. Passengers then raced onto a station platform to safety.
Nassau County Police spokesman Andrew DeSimone said three men and a woman were killed.
Detectives investigating the carnage said eyewitnesses described a "horror scene" with "blood everywhere."
"He was walking down the aisle randomly picking out victims," Mr. DeSimone said.
Eyewitnesses, who saw police leading the shooter away in handcuffs, said he looked calm. But the frenzy aboard left many passengers so shaken they spoke only with difficulty.
"I was at the back, by the door, and we heard a loud . . . popping
noise," Mark Heiney, a passenger told CNN. "Someone was poking a gun into the seats and randomly firing, and I got down as quickly as I could.
"I was about five feet away from him and I heard him stop firing, and I got up quickly and ran down the aisle as quickly as I could and got out of the way," Mr. Heiney said. "I jumped into another set of seats after a couple of seconds. And he started shooting again, and he was doing it as he walked up the aisle toward everybody and herding everyone to
ward the front of the train.
"I think he ran out of bullets again and reloaded, so I think he reloaded twice, but it's kind of blurred in my mind. He started shooting again and I got winged in the head by something and it knocked me to the ground. There was a stampede of people and at that point he ran out of bullets, I think for the third time," Mr. Heiney said. "Someone yelled, 'Get him!' and before he could reload again the train finally pulled into the next station."
Police quickly cordoned off the
Merillon Avenue station with yellow tape as stricken relatives searched for passengers.
The Long Island Rail Road is the nation's largest commuter line, carrying some 240,000 riders daily between New York City and suburban Long Island.
Initial estimates were that the gunman fired 17 shots with his 9 mm weapon.
"Right now, there doesn't seem seem to be anything as far as a motive," Mr. DeSimone said. "It seems like a random shooting."