Manhunt Ends but Questions Linger After Arrest in Subway Attack
After 29 hours in which the police combed the streets, scoured surveillance cameras, patrolled subway platforms and sent an alert to phones across New York seeking tips, the man accused of opening fire on a subway train in Brooklyn and injuring at least 23 people was arrested near a McDonald’s in the East Village, officials said.
The suspect, Frank R. James, 62, was taken into custody without a struggle about five miles from the subway station where he is accused of committing one of the worst attacks on New York’s subway system.
“My fellow New Yorkers: We got him,” Mayor Eric Adams said in a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “We got him.”
Federal officials charged Mr. James with carrying out a terrorist attack on a mass transit system, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Brooklyn. If convicted, he could face life in prison. He is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
It was unclear who alerted the police that Mr. James was at the McDonald’s on 1st Avenue shortly before he was arrested around 1:40 p.m.
There were scores of calls, and an array of people took credit for turning him in. A number of law enforcement officials also said that Mr. James himself may have called the tip line. Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said that detectives were investigating who provided the information about the McDonald’s.
Mr. James’s arrest brought some relief to residents worried about an accused gunman at large on the transit system, and to officials who feared that another high-profile violent act on the subway would diminish confidence in the city at a precarious moment in its recovery from the pandemic.
“Everybody’s on edge because of what happened yesterday, obviously,” said Lee Lloyd, who was inside the bar he owns in the East Village when officers surrounded Mr. James and took him into custody. “When we saw five cop cars come through, I was like, ‘Oh, man, what now?’”
But even as the widespread manhunt for Mr. James, which involved multiple federal and state agencies and hundreds of officers, came to a close, the investigation left many questions unanswered. Police officials and prosecutors have not yet provided a motive for the shooting, which left 10 people wounded by gunfire and at least 13 others with other injuries.
The shooting victims ranged from a 15-year-old boy to men and women in their 40s. At least nine people remained hospitalized on Wednesday, but all of them were in stable condition with no life-threatening injuries. A number of those injured in the attack were teenagers or college students who were on a normally mundane trek — heading to school on the train.
Rudy Pérez, 20, was struck in the left leg and had to be helped off the train by another passenger, he said. Doctors told him it will be about a month until he can walk again. Until then, Mr. Pérez, who works in construction, is unsure how he will be able to do his job, and is worried about his safety.
“I’m afraid it’ll happen again,” he said, adding, “I’m worried about everyone else.”
The authorities have not fully accounted for Mr. James’s whereabouts after the shooting. And with the attack provoking questions about ongoing efforts to make the subways safer, transit officials on Wednesday acknowledged that a surveillance camera at the station where the attack took place was not working properly.
Maintenance workers inspected the camera at the station on Sunday, transit officials said, two days before the shooting, and traced the problem to a fiber-optic cable connection failure that also interrupted feeds from cameras in two other stations: the local stop immediately before the scene of the shooting and the one immediately after it.
Mr. Adams on Tuesday said the issue had initially slowed the police’s efforts to identify and locate the gunman.
Though Mr. James was initially described as a person of interest whom the police wanted to question, the police said he was considered the lone gunman early Wednesday as their investigation progressed.
“We were able to shrink his world quickly,” Commissioner Sewell said. “There was nowhere left for him to run.”
The police have accused Mr. James of putting on a gas mask on an N train, then releasing two smoke grenades and firing a Glock 9-millimeter handgun at passengers as the train pulled into the 36th Street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
Mr. James, who has addresses in Wisconsin and Philadelphia, first came to the police’s attention after investigators at the crime scene found an array of belongings on the train that included the gun, a credit card with Mr. James’s name on it and a key to a U-Haul van he was later found to have rented, officials said.
James Essig, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said that investigators could see Mr. James on video entering the Kings Highway station on the N line, eight stops away from the site of the shooting. The U-Haul vehicle he rented was found three blocks away from that station, Chief Essig said.
The video shows Mr. James in an orange reflective jacket and yellow construction hat, carrying a bag that was later found at the crime scene, said an official close to the investigation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. In the video, Mr. James swipes a MetroCard and struggles to pass through the turnstiles. He then gets the attention of a station agent and enters the station through a gate.
Federal officials say surveillance footage later showed Mr. James exiting the subway system at the 25th Street station, one stop away from the shooting scene, according to the criminal complaint.
Chief Essig said detectives believed Mr. James boarded an R train across the platform from the N train at the 36th Street station, as did some of the shooting victims and many panicked riders. He then rode one stop and headed outside.
Mr. James was next spotted entering the 7th Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, more than a mile away, at around 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Chief Essig said. At the time, detectives were just beginning their attempts to track him down.
It is not yet clear where he traveled next, and Chief Essig said that detectives were continuing to review video footage. “We’re going to back track that,” he said. “That will take literally weeks.”
As they hunted for information, the police used an emergency alert — typically used for weather-related warnings or to find abducted children — to point people across the city toward pictures of Mr. James and urged those with information to call a phone number for tips.
With the authorities pressing to track down the gunman, the uncertainty around Mr. James’s location left some commuters on the city’s bustling subway system on Wednesday on edge. Many riders said they were determined to go on with their normal routines, but some admitted to heightened feelings of unease as they rode the trains.
Marco Meza, 38, a building painter, said he lives near the site of the shooting. At the busy Atlantic-Barclays station on Wednesday, he said he was still in shock, and that he was struggling to overcome feelings that he should avoid the subway. But he has no choice.
“I have to do it,” Mr. Meza said. “I have to wake up every morning and do my things.”
The subway is the backbone of New York and officials are intently focused on allaying concerns over its safety as they try to restore ridership that cratered at the onset of the pandemic.
In the aftermath of the shooting, officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Commissioner Sewell and Janno Lieber, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, posted photos or videos on social media showing them on public transit. They and Mr. Adams, who is isolating after testing positive for Covid, urged riders to return.
“The subway has a special place in New York’s heart,” Mr. Lieber said on MSNBC. “We’re never going to let it be taken over by maniacs.”
While ridership data for Wednesday was not yet available, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that ridership on Tuesday, the day of the attack, was down by about 312,000 people from one week earlier, to about 3.05 million riders.
That total represents about 51 percent of prepandemic levels.
Ridership levels fluctuate based on many factors. It is unclear how much of the drop may have been attributed to the shooting and the related disruptions it caused as transit officials suspended some service to allow the police to investigate.
On many busy platforms, hurried riders said the Brooklyn shootings had already become a distant memory, or that their concerns had receded because of their need to make a living.
When Louie Dacunha, 30, was asked about the shooting, his reaction was, “Oh yeah, that happened.”
“I wasn’t even thinking about that,” Mr. Dacunha said. “I was just thinking, ‘I gotta go where I gotta go.’”
As Mr. James was taken into custody more details emerged about a life that included numerous arrests.
He was born in New York City in 1959, according to public records, and his sister, Catherine James Robinson, said that he moved frequently between cities.
Police officials said that he was arrested nine times in New York between 1992 to 1998, on a number of charges including possession of burglary tools, a criminal sex act and criminal tampering. He was arrested three times in New Jersey, the first in 1991, the most recent in 2007.
In filling out a portrait of Mr. James, detectives have focused on dozens of videos they say he posted on YouTube in which he delivered bigoted rants tied to current events.
In some, he commented on New York’s subway, criticizing Mr. Adams’s policies to address homelessness on public transit as ineffective and speculating that the mayor could not possibly stop all crime in the system. In others, he mused about violent acts and alluded vaguely to the possibility of committing them.
Inside the jacket Mr. James discarded on the subway platform at 36th Street, investigators found a receipt from a storage facility in Philadelphia, where he rented an apartment for about two weeks starting at the end of March, according to the federal criminal complaint.
When they searched the storage unit and his apartment on Tuesday and Wednesday, they found handgun ammunition, a Taser, a high-capacity rifle magazine and a smoke canister, the criminal complaint said.
Reporting was contributed by Jonah E. Bromwich, Troy Closson, Michael LaForgia, Ana Ley, Chelsia Rose Marcius, Andy Newman, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Sean Piccoli, Michael Rothfeld, Nate Schweber, Ashley Southall, Ashley Wong and Karen Zraick.