Additional reporting by George Joseph
The main suspect in the rush-hour shooting rampage on a Brooklyn N train is now facing federal terrorism charges after being captured by police in the East Village Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
The arrest of Frank R. James caps a more than 24-hour search following a brazen and bloody attack in a Sunset Park subway station that left 10 people with bullet wounds, and 19 others with various injuries.
“My fellow New Yorkers, we got him,” Mayor Eric Adams announced just after 2 p.m. “We got him.”
The 62-year-old was stopped by police on First Avenue and St. Marks Place in the East Village at 1:42 p.m after a Crime Stoppers tip, Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at a press conference announcing his arrest.
Officials said the NYPD received more than 1,000 tips — as cameras at the stations where the attack took place weren’t sending video to the police, the transit union told THE CITY.
“We were able to shrink his world quickly,” Sewell said. “There was nowhere left for him to run.”
Officials first named him as a person of interest late Tuesday before upgrading him to a suspect Wednesday morning.
Police said James — who has a lengthy rap sheet dating back decades — transferred to a Manhattan-bound R train after the shooting and exited the train at the next stop, 25th Street.
Officials were not able to immediately pin down a motive for his rampage, though James ranted in a series of social media videos and posts in which he called himself a “prophet of doom.”
“First and foremost, we wanted to take him off the street,” said NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig. “The investigation is continuing into the motive, into his social media postings.”
In one video, James said, “There’s gonna be blood, there’s gonna be blood,” adding that the population has to be reduced.
“White, Black, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Adams said the alleged gunman’s words in the YouTube videos were meaningless and pointed to the city’s long-running failures when it comes to mentally ill New Yorkers.
“Being angry does not give you the right to enter our subway system, discharge 33 rounds, striking 10 people, injuring 16, because of your actions,” Adams said later on NY1. “You don’t have that right, and I am not going to succumb to any person who believes they can attempt to harm New Yorkers because they are angry.”
Police said the gun used in the Tuesday shooting had been bought legally by James in Ohio some 11 years ago. Essig said James was able to purchase the firearm because none of his previous convictions were for felonies.
Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said James is facing a terrorism-related charge because his alleged violent conduct took place in a mass transit system.
“The government will prove, among other things, that James traveled across state lines to commit the offense,” Peace said, adding that the suspect faces a life sentence in federal prison, if convicted.
James, who had addresses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, allegedly boarded a Manhattan-bound N train at the Kings Highway station early Tuesday. As the train entered the 36th Street station, he put on a gas mask, detonated two smoke grenades and fired 33 shots at passengers.
Police later found a bag at the scene with three extended magazine clips, hatchet, smoke grenades, fireworks, and gasoline — as well as a key to a U-Haul van that James had rented Philadelphia, Sewell said.
The van was found on Kings Highway and West 4th Street in Gravesend Tuesday afternoon, but James was not there.
Sewell said Tuesday that the police department had viewed YouTube videos purportedly made by James where he threatened Adams, and also ranted about the city’s mental health services. As a result, the NYPD ramped up the mayor’s security detail.
Cameras Had Known Issues
The arrest brought a sense of relief to riders at the subway station where James sprayed the inside of a subway car with 33 bullets before escaping.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Jason Ortiz, 24, who coaches soccer in Sunset Park. “I feel a lot better knowing that people in this part of Brooklyn are safer.”
In a more than 32-minute video posted on March 23, where James said he was in Harrisburg, Pa., he spoke about future race wars, the potential for World War III and racism he experienced while traveling across the country.
“We are living in some very dangerous times, I would say, very uncertain times,” he said.
Just two days before the Brooklyn subway shooting, transit workers inspected security cameras at the stations involved — because the NYPD had complained about not receiving a video feed, according to John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union.
Samuelsen told THE CITY that MTA employees found the cameras were in working order at the 45th, 36th and 25th street stations along Fourth Avenue, but the fiber-optic cables that are supposed to patch through video images to authorities failed.
“Everything subway-side was in good shape,” Samuelsen said. “The external cables that deliver the video to the rest of the world were not — that’s where the problem was.”
NYPD officials declined to say Wednesday if police had complained about the cameras.
MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber acknowledged Wednesday there may have been “a server problem or an Internet connection problem at one or two of them,” but said some of the more than 600 cameras along that stretch of the subway were vital to capturing images from three angles of the man sought by police as he entered the system.
“The big picture is we’ve got a ton of video evidence that goes directly to the investigation that has helped the NYPD to identify and confirm that this is the guy they want,” Lieber said.
Police said they were able to pull video of James entering the system at Kings Highway before the attack, and then again entering a Park Slope station at about 9:15 a.m., after the shooting.
“There are thousands and thousands of more cameras and they are proving to be effective in so many ways,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. “But this has shined a light on some flaws that need to be addressed.”
At the 36th Street station, some riders said the rampage had shaken their faith in the transit system.
“It made me scared to take the train, but I’m still going to take it,” said college student Amy Lin, 18, who was catching the D train at the 36th Street station.
The MTA’s chief sought to allay those fears.
“Transit riders and all New Yorkers will rest a little easier tonight thanks to the incredible work of the NYPD,” Lieber said in a statement after the arrest. “Since the attack, the MTA has been cooperating closely with police on the investigation, reviewing countless hours of video from thousands of cameras across the subway and bus network.”