Suspect in New York subway shooting called police on himself, authorities say
Frank R. James faces terror charge in attack that left 10 people with gunshot wounds
The man accused of shooting 10 people on a Brooklyn subway train was arrested Wednesday and charged with a federal terrorism offence after the suspect himself called police to come get him, law enforcement officials said.
Frank R. James, 62, was taken into custody about 30 hours after the carnage on a rush-hour train, which left five victims in critical condition and people around the city on edge.
"My fellow New Yorkers, we got him," Mayor Eric Adams said.
James was awaiting arraignment on a charge that pertains to terrorist or other violent attacks against mass transit systems and carries a sentence of up to life in prison, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.
In recent months, James had railed in online videos about racism and violence in the U.S. and about his experiences with mental health care in New York City. In some videos, he criticized the policies of Adams on mental health and subway safety. But the motive for the subway attack remains unclear, and there is no indication that James had ties to terror organizations, international or otherwise, Peace said.
It wasn't immediately clear whether James, who is from New York but has lived recently in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, has an attorney or anyone else who can speak for him. A sign taped to the door of James' Milwaukee apartment asks that all mail be delivered to a post office box.
James, dressed in a blue T-shirt and brown pants, with his hands cuffed behind his back, didn't respond to reporters shouting questions as police escorted him to a car a few hours after his arrest.
Tip led to arrest
Police had launched a massive effort to find him, releasing his name and issuing cellphone alerts.
They got a tip Wednesday that he was in a McDonald's in Manhattan's East Village neighbourhood, NYPD Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said.
The tipster was James, and he told authorities to come and get him, two law enforcement officials said. They weren't authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
James was gone when officers arrived, but they soon spotted him on a busy corner nearby.
Four police cars zoomed around a corner, officers leaped out and, soon, a compliant James was in handcuffs as a crowd of people looked on, witness Aleksei Korobow said.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said authorities "were able to shrink his world quickly."
"There was nowhere left for him to run," she said.
The day before, a gunman set off smoke grenades in a commuter-packed subway car and then fired at least 33 shots with a 9 mm handgun, police said.
Police Chief of Detectives James Essig said police were told that after James opened one of the smoke grenades, a rider asked, "What did you do?"
"Oops," James allegedly said, then went on to brandish his gun and open fire, according to a witness account.
At least a dozen people who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.
As terrified riders fled the attack, James allegedly hopped another train — the same one many were steered to for safety, police said. He got out at the next station, disappearing into the nation's most populous city.
The shooter escaped in the chaos, but left behind numerous clues, including the gun, ammunition magazines, a hatchet, smoke grenades, gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van. That key led investigators to James.
Federal investigators determined the gun used in the shooting was purchased by James at a pawn shop — a licensed firearms dealer — in the Columbus, Ohio, area in 2011, a law enforcement official said.
The van was found, unoccupied, near a station where investigators determined the gunman had entered the subway system. No explosives or firearms were found in the van, a law enforcement official said. Police did find other items, including pillows, suggesting he may have been sleeping or planned to sleep in the van, the official said.
Investigators believe James drove up from Philadelphia on Monday and have reviewed surveillance video showing a man matching his physical description coming out of the van early Tuesday morning, the official said. Other video shows James entering a subway station in Brooklyn with a large bag, the official said
Social media posts
In addition to analyzing financial and telephone records connected to James, investigators were reviewing hours of rambling, profanity-filled videos James posted on YouTube and other social media platforms as they tried to discern a motive.
In one video, posted a day before the attack, James criticizes crime against Black people and says drastic action is needed.
"You got kids going in here now taking machine guns and mowing down innocent people," James says. "It's not going to get better until we make it better," he said, adding that he thought things would only change if certain people were "stomped, kicked and tortured" out of their "comfort zone."
In another video he says, "this nation was born in violence, it's kept alive by violence or the threat thereof and it's going to die a violent death. There's nothing going to stop that."
His posts are replete with violent language and bigoted comments, some against Black people.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the posts "concerning" and officials tightened security for Adams, who was already isolating following a positive COVID-19 test Sunday.
Several of James' videos mention New York's subways. A Feb. 20 video says the mayor and governor's plan to address homelessness and safety in the subway system "is doomed for failure" and refers to himself as a "victim" of the city's mental health programs. A Jan. 25 video criticizes Adams' plan to end gun violence.
The Brooklyn subway station where passengers fled the smoke-filled train in the attack was open as usual Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the violence.
Commuter Jude Jacques, who takes the D train to his job as a fire safety director some two blocks from the shooting scene, said he prays every morning but had a special request on Wednesday.
"I said, 'God, everything is in your hands,"' Jacques said. "I was antsy, and you can imagine why. Everybody is scared because it just happened."