FINDING STRENGTH AFTER LIRR TRAGEDY Ten years ago, a maniac on a commuter train killed 6, wounded 19 and changed untold lives

Sunday, December 7th 2003, 1:63AM

For many survivors, the gruesome scene from a decade ago remains frozen in time. That moment when Colin Ferguson opened fire on the 5:33 p.m. LIRR commuter train from Penn Station to Hicksville.

Terrible memories aside, those who lived through the Dec. 7, 1993, massacre that left six dead and 19 injured have learned to accentuate the positive aspects of their lives.

"Some days you look back and it was like yesterday," said Lisa Combatti, 43. "Other days, you realize that a nice amount of time has passed and things are okay. The farther away it gets, the easier it gets. But you never forget."

Who could possibly forget the explosion of rage displayed that evening by Ferguson, a Jamaican immigrant who aimed and fired at will as the train approached the Merillon Ave. station in Garden City?

When Ferguson, now locked away for life at Attica, tried to reload his Ruger 9-mm. semiautomatic pistol with Black Talon bullets, three heroic passengers wrestled him to the ground.

So many lives were changed forever.

A radiant, 71/2 -months' pregnant Combatti was sitting in the middle of the third car, facing away from the approaching Ferguson when the shooting started. She fell to a fetal position, as did many others, "trying to be as small as we could be."

Shot in the left hip, she was hospitalized for seven days. "I have a permanent dropped foot. I cannot pull up my toes," she said. "Luckily, I proceeded to have a normal delivery. My daughter Kimberly is almost 10."

These days, Combatti focuses on "the important things: my family and how great all my friends have been." She also has a 7-year-old son and still rides the train to her vice president's job at a bank in Manhattan.

In between thinking about the good things, her mind circles back to that fateful night.

Like when she sees people putting up their Christmas lights, or on the Fourth of July. "When I smell the fireworks it brings me right back to the train. The first year, it scared me. Now I know how to handle it."

She hopes the others are doing as well. "I am so fortunate and have so much to be thankful for. I know that everyone that it touched appreciates everything that they have today."

This afternoon - to remember, and to give thanks - many survivors will gather at the Garden City station for a memorial.

"Every year on that day," Combatti said last week, "I think of those who lost their brothers or sisters or fathers. Here we all were coming home on a commuter train. Who would expect that to happen to you?"

Giving even in death

Several days passed before passenger Amy Federici, an interior designer for MTV, died at the hospital. Her heart, two kidneys and liver were transplanted so four others could extend their lives. Since then, Amy's parents. Arlene and Jack Locicero of Hawthorne, N.J., have become national advocates for organ and tissue transplantation.

The retired teachers travel the country as representatives of Transplant Speakers International, conducting workshops and visiting elementary and high school classrooms.

So what would Amy, who was 27, think of their efforts during the past decade?

"She would be very pleased," said her father. "Amy was a very giving person." Added her mother, "We think about her every day."

"We function in sorrowful joy," said Arlene Locicero. "It's never as if the sorrow will go away, but we are aware of her legacy in that others are living. And because of our involvement in the issue on the local, state and national levels, thousands have become donors."

The couple have become close with Theresa Caravella of Islip, L.I., the 70-year-old woman who has their daughter's heart.

"At the time, she was the mother of seven and the grandmother of nine," said Arlene Locicero. "Now she is the grandmother of 14 and the great-grandmother of three."

Jack Locicero said it is important for people to feel comfortable with the concept of being an organ donor "before that point is reached. It is important that family members know your intentions, and that donor cards are filled out."

"There's an element of healing in making that kind of decision," his wife added. "If a loved one is brain-dead and not really going to live, then others can."

Debra Weber remembers bullets flying all around her. She was in the same row of seats as two of those killed, Jim Gorycki and Richard Nettleton.

Another man, Denis McCarthy, was killed in the row behind her. McCarthy's son, Kevin, was severely injured.

"I just knew I was going to die," Weber told the Daily News.

"I was getting ready to get off the train and someone yelled, 'He's got a gun.' I tried crawling under my seat. Ferguson took a spread-eagle stance above my seat and then he shot everyone in the back of the car."

Then he lowered his weapon "and shot me in the left thigh - and that hurt."

Inspired to action

As Ferguson's case made its way through the legal system, Weber got on with her life. She and her husband tried unsuccessfully to have a child.

Then, on the first anniversary of the shooting - with the couple starting to consider adoption - their doctor called with exciting news. Matthew, their only child, is now 8.

Weber is active in New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and applauds the work of Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (R-L.I.), who reacted to her husband's death by running for Congress as a gun-control candidate.

"You can't save everybody and you can't control every gun," Weber said. "But if one life could be saved, it would be worth it."

Weber occasionally thinks of the shooting, and deeply appreciates her good fortune. "I didn't die. I should have. So I concentrate on the good things. We had a child. We got a gift," she said. "It gave me a better insight on life. I've learned to never sweat the small things."

Kevin Blum remembers when the shooting stopped; he kept it from starting again. As the madman started to reload, Blum jumped on top of him, quickly assisted by two other passengers. They put an end to the carnage.

Blum, 53, a senior vice president for Lehman Brothers, has never worn the hero cap comfortably, though he still remembers fondly his meeting with then-President Bill Clinton at the Waldolf-Astoria.

"I was not as traumatized as some of the people, the ones who still won't get on a train, the ones who now have to work in Long Island, or who drive to work," he said.

Blum still rides the LIRR to Manhattan. "From time to time someone might come up to me and say, 'Thanks again.' It's a nice thing, but you move on."

But he does not forget. "All the blood, the injuries, the deaths - it was awful."

And, unfortunately, he has experienced more violence since.

Blum was working in a building across from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Two months later, American Airlines Flight 587 plunged into the Rockaways.

All 260 people on board were killed, as were five on the ground in Belle Harbor - including Blum's sister and a nephew.

One thing he doesn't think about is Ferguson.

"What's there to think about? It was an absolutely horrible situation that he put too many people in. A lot of lives have been affected by it," Blum said. "Then you have to ask why. Why did Colin Ferguson put so many people in that position?"

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