Suspect in New York subway shooting has been arrested, officials say
By Troy Closson, Jonah E. Bromwich and Rebecca Davis O’Brien
Frank R. James, who law enforcement officials suspect of having perpetrated the worst attack on New York’s subway system in years, was taken into custody on Wednesday, more than 24 hours into an expansive search that erupted after at least 10 people were shot at a Brooklyn train station.
“We got him,” said Mayor Eric Adams, the first official to speak at an afternoon news conference. “We got him.”
James was arrested in the East Village, officials said, and has been charged with having committed a terrorist act on a mass transit system, according to Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney for New York’s Eastern District. If convicted, James could face a sentence of up to life in prison.
Officials said that James was apprehended thanks to a tip that came in from a McDonald’s on Sixth Street and First Avenue. Officers responded, and when James was not present, they began driving around the neighborhood. They found him on the corner of St. Marks Place and First Avenue, one of the busier intersections in the East Village, and took him into custody without incident.
“We were able to shrink his world quickly,” said New York’s police commissioner, Keechant Sewell. “There was nowhere left for him to run.”
Officials said that after the attack the day before, James had left the N train where the shooting had taken place and boarded a local train across the platform, the R train, that several of his victims had also fled to. He exited the subway system at 25th Street and managed to evade law enforcement for more than a day.
James had been arrested many times previously, officials said, including nine prior arrests in New York, mostly for misdemeanors, and three arrests in New Jersey.
His apprehension Wednesday put an end to a frantic search that began after the shooting in the Sunset Park subway station, which left at least 23 people injured.
Officials said James was the man who, wearing a construction worker’s helmet and vest and a gas mask, had thrown two smoke grenades on the floor of the N train and unleashed a barrage of gunfire into the car around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
He escaped the scene, but the police discovered an array of belongings on the train that he appeared to have left behind, including a Glock 9 mm handgun, three ammunition magazines, a credit card with James’ name on it and a key to a U-Haul van.
That vehicle was found abandoned on a street in the Gravesend neighborhood late Tuesday afternoon, about 5 miles from the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, where the shooting had taken place.
According to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, James reserved and prepaid for the van from U-Haul on April 6, and picked it up in Philadelphia on April 11. At 4:11 a.m. Wednesday, surveillance cameras captured the van crossing the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.
At 6:12 a.m., according to the complaint, a surveillance camera at West 7th Street and Kings Highway in Brooklyn recorded somebody leaving the van — parked where it was found later Tuesday — wearing a yellow hard hat and an orange working jacket, carrying a backpack and dragging a rolling bag.
The person matched the description provided by at least one witness to the subway attack later that morning.
The vast manhunt for James, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, included a broad review of security cameras throughout the subway system; a more than 17-block wide ground canvass in Sunset Park for stores’ surveillance footage or other signs of James; and a search for information on the gun, which matched a serial number in federal records.
But the investigation was complicated by the malfunctioning of at least one security camera in the station where the shooting took place. One senior law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said that it appeared none of the security cameras were in full operation at the time of the gunfire.
James Essig, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said that detectives saw James on video entering the subway system on Tuesday morning at the Kings Highway station on the N line. Video showed him carrying a bag that was later found at the crime scene.
Footage later showed James exiting the subway system at the 25th Street station, one stop away from the shooting scene, Essig said.
He was next spotted entering the 7th Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, more than a mile away, at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, Essig said. At the time, investigators were just beginning their attempt to track him down.
As part of the investigation, the complaint says, authorities searched a storage facility in Philadelphia that James visited the evening before the attack. In the facility, they found ammunition for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 9 mm pistol, among other items.
Investigators also seized items — including a stun gun and an empty magazine for a Glock handgun — from an apartment James rented in Philadelphia, according to the complaint.