What survivors of a train shooting 30 years ago can – and can’t – teach the people of Sunset Park

What survivors of a train shooting 30 years ago can - and can't - teach the people of Sunset Park

The Long Island Rail Road survivors were mostly white and middle class, and had more support after the tragedy they lived through. Survivor Jane Nhaisi said her boss at a New York investment bank gave her lots of space to recover.

“He said, ‘Stay home as long as you want.’ He said, ‘When you’re ready to come back, we’ll send a car for you as long as you want.’ And I stayed home for a couple of days. I used a car for a couple days, maybe a week. And then I got back on the train. It wasn’t comfortable. But I did it.”

Likewise, Terry Sullivan was already seeing a therapist when the Long Island Rail Road shooting happened. “And that was helpful because … you can process what you’re thinking and feeling about it.”

Jean-Francois said for many Sunset Park survivors, stopping to process their feelings is out of the question.

“If you are working as a domestic worker and you’re caring for an elderly person or you’re cleaning houses, you can’t afford to lose a day’s pay,” she said. “That’s how you’re going to feed yourself and your children, that’s how you’re going to pay for your rent. So the relationship to fear is a different one.”

She said her office has received grants to pay people’s lost wages, provide some ride shares and trauma counseling. But for many people, healing will mostly be about reconnecting with friends, church groups and community organizations.

Walking this week in Sunset Park itself, the large grassy knoll that the neighborhood is named for, Allejandra Gomez agreed.

In the days after the shooting, she didn’t feel safe in her neighborhood. But seeing the streets full of people she knows, and feeling the spring air, and walking with her boyfriend, she said she feels better.

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