NEW YORK -- In three terrible minutes, a 35-year-old handyman who was suspended from college because of disciplinary problems turned a commuter railroad car into a killing ground because of his intense hatred of whites, Asians, some blacks and governmental institutions, police said yesterday.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Donald Kane said Colin A. Ferguson, an unemployed black resident of Brooklyn, allegedly selected a Long Island Rail Road train traveling through the suburbs as his target because he wanted to spare outgoing New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, whom he claimed to admire.
Five commuters were killed and 18 others were shot before Mr. Ferguson -- who purchased his gun at a hunting and fishing store in Chino, Calif., on May 9 -- was tackled by three passengers Tuesday. The suspect had been trying to reload for the third time his 15-shot, 9 mm semiautomatic Ruger P89 pistol.
One rider remained in extremely critical condition.
Mr. Ferguson, his hands cuffed behind his back and wearing blue prison garb, did not speak or enter a plea during his arraignment yesterday .
Nassau County police said Mr. Ferguson was arrested in February 1992 for harassment on a New York City subway. A police spokesman described the offense as "like someone getting a traffic ticket," but did not know the ultimate disposition of the case.
Police Commissioner Kane said at a news conference that the gunman carried a series of notes in his pockets, indicating racial hatred for whites, "Uncle Tom Negroes, Chinese racists, rich black attorneys and so-called civil rights leaders."
The notes also expressed rage against his neighbors in Brooklyn, N.Y., New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and his staff, and the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.
"It seems he had hostility regarding a major portion of the population and a variety of institutions," Commissioner Kane said.
"The paperwork reveals a strong hostility being harbored by [Mr. Ferguson] in terms of racism," Mr. Kane added.
Complained to state
A Cuomo spokesman said Mr. Ferguson, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, called a New York state ombudsman's phone line and spoke with state officials "on numerous occasions."
"He was generally complaining about the finding in his workers' compensation case," the spokesman said. "No one he talked to ever expressed concern or described him as saying anything threatening."
Mr. Ferguson also called members of the governor's staff about his dispute involving a back injury he received while working in the file room of the Alarm Device Manufacturing Co. of Syosset, Long Island.
An official of the Workers' Compensation Board said Mr. Ferguson first was awarded $75 a week for partial disability, then changed his mind and elected to take a lump sum payment of $21,450 plus past benefits.
He then reversed himself again, asking that the lump sum payment be overturned and the case reopened because he claimed that his symptoms had worsened. When the board requested an examination by an independent physician, Mr. Ferguson became enraged, the official said.
At an Oct. 25 hearing, Mr. Ferguson declared that he did not want to see the medical specialist.
Chairwoman used train
The New York Daily News reported today that Barbara Patton, head of the state Workers' Compensation Board, frequently takes the 5:33 p.m. train Mr. Ferguson allegedly attacked.
Bonnie Hede, director of news relations at Adelphi College -- located near the train station where the shootings occurred in Garden City on New York's Long Island -- said Mr. Ferguson had attended Adelphi for a year and had majored in business administration before being suspended in June 1991 for "disciplinary reasons."
She said that while the exact nature of Mr. Ferguson's problem could not be discussed, students typically are suspended for such infractions as "behavioral problems or someone defacing something on campus. . . . It usually doesn't involve police."
The notes found in the suspect's pockets disclosed that the gunman spared New York and opened fire as the train approached Garden City "because of my respect for Mayor David Dinkins," police said.
In buying the military-type pistol in May, Mr. Ferguson gave his real name, supplied a California driver's license with a Long Beach motel's address, affirmed that he was not a convicted felon or a mental patient and was told he could pick up the weapon after a waiting period of 16 days.
Fifteen days were imposed by the state of California and one was added for good measure by the gun store, Turner's Outdoorsman, which has 14 outlets.
Carried 100 rounds
On May 9, Ferguson collected the pistol and was not heard from until, police say, he began methodically shooting passengers on the train.
Investigators said the suspect carried 100 rounds of ammunition in a small canvas bag and apparently planned to kill as many passengers as he could. Only whites and Asians were struck, police said.
The shooting, which occurred at the height of the Tuesday evening rush hour, caused pandemonium on the train as passengers ran for their lives, tried to hide under seats, locked themselves in washrooms and pounded against locked exit doors that didn't immediately open.