All that a 38-year-old Robert Giugliano wanted was to leave his city office by 2 p.m. on Dec. 7, 1993 to see his daughter rehearse for a Christmas event. But, work kept him long, and so he ended up taking his usual 5:33 p.m. LIRR train to Hicksville, nodding to familiar commuters and taking his regular third seat on the third train.
And then at Garden City, Colin Ferguson stepped on, permanently and horrendously changing Giugliano’s life.
When Giugliano speaks of the 1993 LIRR massacre, 20 years later, he doesn’t mark a specific turning point in his recovery.
“You’re going to live it the rest of your life,” he said of the incident in which Ferguson opened fire on the LIRR train killing six people and wounding 19, including Giugliano.
“I couldn’t do anything on the train, I couldn’t control the situation, I couldn’t stop him,” he said.
In a span of three minutes, Ferguson shot through a car packed with 80 passengers. As he walked down the aisle, Marita Magtoto, one of the familiar and “angelic” faces to Giugliano, began crawling in Ferguson’s direction. She looked up and he opened fire, her blood splattering on Giugliano.
He was the last shot, with a bullet flying right over his head and another going through his arm and into his chest. Shortly after, three passengers tackled Ferguson and the shooting ended, but Giugliano’s anguish had only begun.
Despite dealing with physical therapy, the first year wasn’t the toughest for him. During that time, he was sidetracked by all the media attention that built up to the trial where he confronted Ferguson, who chose to represent himself in court.
Giugliano recalls only staring straight into Ferguson’s eyes throughout the entire 42 minutes of questioning.
“He was fumbling, he didn’t know what to do. He was very nervous,” Giugliano said. After Ferguson was sentenced to 315 years in prison, Giugliano famously asked for five minutes alone to show him what pain was.
He says he vividly recalls evaluating electrical work for the Andy Warhol Museum the day he stayed late. He remembered it because of Warhol’s famous statement that everybody would get their 15 minutes of fame. It was after his time was up that the psychological toll of the tragedy hit.
By February 1995, Giugliano said he suffered an emotional breakdown and began alienating his family and friends. He went through a divorce and several jobs before coming to a point of acceptance.
For the first few years, Giugliano found some consolation in reuniting with other survivors. He still keeps in touch with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in the massacre, as he is also a staunch critic of gun crime and laws.
“Every shooting that happens ... there’s a domino effect [of tragedy],” he said.
As the years went on, Giugliano persevered, finding more work in his career in the electrical industry, and meeting Maria Dattolo, now his fiancee. Although she knew who he was at their first date, Giugliano said she was understanding and compassionate from the start. Ultimately, it was the family support that got him through.
While Dec. 7 used to be a torment of memories, you can find Giugliano celebrating birthdays with food he probably cooked for everyone. Two years ago, the birth of his granddaughter engendered happier memories, which as of this past Saturday, seem to have only improved with the birth of his second grandchild, Santino.