NEW YORK (AP) – The man accused of shooting 10 people in a Brooklyn subway train was arrested Wednesday and charged with a federal terrorist crime after the suspect himself called police to come and pick him up, law enforcement officials said.
Frank R. James, 62, was arrested about 30 hours after the massacre on a train during rush hour, which left five victims in critical condition and people around town on edge.
“My other New Yorkers, we have him,” said Mayor Eric Adams.
James was awaiting prosecution on a charge of terrorism or other violent attacks on mass transit systems and faces up to life in prison, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.
In recent months, James has been talking about online videos about racism and violence in the United States and about his experiences with mental health care in New York City, and he had criticized Adams’ policies on mental health and metro safety. But the motive for the metro attack is still unclear and there is nothing to suggest that James had links to terrorist organizations, international or otherwise, Peace said.
It was not immediately clear if James, who is from New York but has recently lived in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, has a lawyer or anyone else who can speak for him. A sign on the door of James’ apartment in Milwaukee asks that all mail be delivered to a mailbox.
James, in a blue t-shirt and brown trousers with his hands in handcuffs behind his back, did not 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, released his name and issued cell phone alarms.
They received a tip Wednesday that he was at a McDonald’s in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, said department head Kenneth Corey.
The tipper was James and he asked the authorities to come and pick him up, said two law enforcement officials. They were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
James was gone when officers arrived, but they quickly spotted him on a busy corner nearby.
Four police cars zoomed around a corner, officers jumped out, and soon an obedient James was handcuffed as a crowd of people watched, witness Aleksei Korobow said.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said authorities “were able to quickly shrink his world.”
“There was nowhere left for him to run,” she said.
The day before, James fired smoke grenades into a commuter-filled subway car and then fired at least 33 shots with a 9mm pistol, police said.
Police Detective Chief 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 proceeded to wave his gun and open fire, according to a witness.
At least a dozen people who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.
When terrified riders fled the attack, James apparently jumped on another train – the same as many were steered to for safety, police said. He got out at the next station and disappeared into the country’s most populous city.
The shooter left several traces, including the gun, ammunition magazines, an ax, smoke grenades, gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van. That key led investigators to James.
Federal investigators determined that the gun used in the shooting was purchased by James at a pawn shop – an authorized firearms dealer – in the Columbus, Ohio area in 2011.
The van was found, unoccupied, near a station where investigators found that the gunman had entered the subway system. No explosives or firearms were found in the van, a law enforcement official who was not authorized to comment on the investigation told the Associated Press. Police found other items, including pillows, suggesting he may have slept or planned to sleep in the van, the official said.
Investigators believe James drove up from Philadelphia on Monday and has reviewed a surveillance video showing a man matching his physical description getting out of the van early Tuesday morning, the official said. Another video shows James entering a Brooklyn subway station with a large bag, the official said.
In addition to analyzing economic and telephone records associated with James, investigators reviewed hours of bustle, videos filled with swear words that James posted on YouTube and other social media platforms while trying to find a motive.
In a video released a day before the attack, James, who is black, criticizes crime against black people and says drastic action is needed.
“You have kids going in here now, taking machine guns and mowing down innocent people,” James says. “It does not get better until we do better,” he said, adding that he believed things would only change if certain people were “trampled, kicked and tortured” out of their “comfort zone.”
In another video, he says, “this nation was born into violence, it is kept alive by violence or the threat thereof, and it is going to die a violent death. There is nothing to stop it.”
His posts are filled with violent language and bigotry comments, some against blacks.
Sewell called the posts “concerning”, and officials tightened security for Adams, who was already isolating himself after a positive COVID-19 test Sunday.
Several of James’ videos mention New York’s subways. A February 20 video says the mayor and the governor’s plan to address homelessness and security in the metro system “is doomed to failure” and refers to itself as a “victim” of the city’s mental health programs. A January 25 video criticizes Adams’ plan to stop the gun violence.
Brooklyn’s subway station, where passengers fled the smoky 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 fire safety director about two blocks from the shooting scene, said he prays every morning but had a special request Wednesday.
“I said, ‘God, everything is in your hands,'” Jacques said. “I was mad and you can imagine why. Everyone is scared because it just happened.”
Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jim Mustian, Beatrice Dupuy, Karen Matthews, Julie Walker, Deepti Hajela, Michelle L. Price, and David Porter of New York contributed to this report, and Michael Kunzelman of College Park, Maryland.