By Michael Sisak, Michael Balsamo and Jennifer Peltz/ Associated Press
And Brooklyn Eagle Staff
The man accused of shooting 10 people on a Brooklyn subway train was arrested Wednesday and charged with a federal terrorism offense 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.
On Thursday, James is scheduled to be arraigned in Brooklyn Federal Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann.
“Today Frank James has been charged by complaint in Brooklyn Federal Court with one count of violating 18 U.S.C. 1992(a)(7), which prohibits terrorist and other violent attacks against mass transportation systems,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, who added that James, if convicted, will be facing life imprisonment.
In recent months, James railed in online videos about racism and violence in the U.S. and about his experiences with mental health care in New York City, and he had criticized Adams’ policies 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.
James, 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.
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 the East Village, Chief of Department Kenneth Corey said.
The tipster was James, and he told authorities to come and get him, two law enforcement officials said. He was gone when officers arrived, but soon afterward, Syrian immigrant Zack Tahhan, 21, who was working in a nearby shop, recognized him and called police.
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, James set off smoke grenades in a commuter-packed subway car approaching the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, 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 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 apparently hopped another train — the same one many were steered to for safety, police said. He got out at the next station, 25th Street and Fourth Avenue, and disappeared, at least temporarily
The shooter 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 in the Columbus, Ohio, area in 2011.
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 who wasn’t authorized to comment on the investigation told the Associated Press.
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, who is Black, 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.”
His posts are replete with violent language and bigoted comments, some against Black people.
The New York Times reported that James’ sister said on Wednesday that her brother had “been on his own his whole life” and that she had little contact with him.
Some customers of Uber and Lyft on Tuesday, near the site of the shooting, complained that the companies had hiked prices after the incidents. This practice, called “surge pricing,” increases prices when drivers are in short supply. An Uber spokesperson said the company had disabled surge pricing soon after the incident, and said it would work to get excessive prices refunded.