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Suspect in Brooklyn Subway Shooting Arrested After 30-Hour Manhunt

New York City Police arrested Frank James, 62, for the Brooklyn subway shooting that left 10 people wounded on 12 April 2022.

The arrest came after a 30-hour manhunt, aided by a tip phoned in that said James could be found near a McDonald’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, according to the Associated Press.

James allegedly set off smoke-emitting devices and opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun on a New York City subway train in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, shortly before 8:30 a.m. on 12 April. Passengers told law enforcement that the shooter wore a gas mask and was dressed in a construction worker’s orange jacket. Along with those wounded by gunfire or shrapnel, at least 13 more people were treated for injuries linked to smoke inhalation, falls, or panic attacks, according to BBC News.

Although the shooter’s face was hidden by the mask, when law enforcement searched the area, they found two bags, one of which contained a firearm that had been legally purchased by James. The bags also had other items, including a container filled with gasoline, fireworks, a hatchet, and a key to a U-Haul van.

“That key led investigators to James, and clues to a life of setbacks and anger as he bounced among factory and maintenance jobs, got fired at least twice, moved among Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York,” the AP reported. “Investigators said James had 12 prior arrests in New York and New Jersey from 1990 to 2007, including for possession of burglary tools, criminal sex act, trespassing, larceny, and disorderly conduct.” However, James was not convicted of anything serious enough to prevent him from legally purchasing firearms and ammunition in Ohio. 

Police also recovered various ammunition, other firearm paraphernalia, a taser, and a blue smoke canister from an apartment and separate storage unit registered to James in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Although his motive is currently unknown, James, who claims he was a mental health patient in several facilities, posted several public YouTube videos prior to the attack on Tuesday, according to court documents. In at least one of those videos, James rants about the city’s subway system, accusing New York City’s mayor of the situation, citing various conspiracy theories, and states, “…the message to me is: I should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting motherf---ers.”

Following the attack, transit authorities noted that the subway’s camera system had malfunctioned, with at least one station camera broken, which prevented law enforcement from identifying and locating the shooter sooner.

“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,” The New York Times reported.

Police suspect that James was the same tipster that called in his location. If this is true, then there is speculation that the attack may have been partly motivated by a desire for fame.

“I think one of his motivations was to finally achieve the fame that he’s always sought throughout his life,” says Joshua Sinai, a professor of intelligence and security studies at Capitol Technology University. Sinai adds that many lone attackers like James seek such infamy in an effort to change how people perceive them. “All their lives they’ve been seen as angry losers. … And that’s why he gave himself up. He wanted to be arrested because now he’s one of the most infamous people in the world.”

James's initial court appearance was scheduled for Thursday, 14 April 2022. He is charged with a federal terrorism offense—specifically, a terrorist attack or other violence against a mass transportation system.

Sinai also notes that while James appears to have acted alone and was a stranger to those using and working for the subway, he still operated as an ideological extremist, and both his criminal background, social media posts, and behaviors—including legally purchasing weapons and ammunition—should have raised red flags with authorities. The Times noted that James’s videos left various clues as he traveled from city to city and hinted at a planned attack, including one where he said he wanted to kill people and see them die in front of him.

Employers and others think that the attack is hindering attempts to convince people to return to offices outside of their homes.

“Even before Tuesday’s shooting on a Brooklyn subway train, employees who have worked remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic were listing public safety as one of the top reasons they were reluctant to return to offices,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Concerns over crime are even outweighing people’s fear of contracting COVID-19 as other venues and transportation methods are trending back towards pre-pandemic rates.

“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,” according to the Times. “That total represents about 51 percent of [pre-pandemic] levels.”