NEW YORK (AP) — A man sought in connection with an attack on a subway train in Brooklyn that left 10 people shot — and once again interrupted New York City’s long journey to post-pandemic normalcy — is now considered a suspect, Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday.
Investigators had initially been searching for Frank R. James as a person of interest. Police said Tuesday that James rented a van possibly connected to Tuesday’s violence, but that they weren’t sure whether he was responsible for the shooting itself. Adams, speaking to NPR on Wednesday morning, did not offer details on why officials were now seeking James as a suspect beyond citing “new information that became available to the team.”
Authorities were examining social media videos in which the 62-year-old decried the United States as a racist place awash in violence and sometimes railed against Adams.
“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. There’s nothing going to stop that,” James said in one video.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the posts “concerning” and officials tightened security for Adams, who was already isolating following a positive COVID-19 test Sunday.
Adams said Wednesday that investigators were zeroed in on finding James.
“We are going to continue to close the loop around him and bring him in, and continue the investigation into this horrific act against innocent New Yorkers,” the Democrat said on MSNBC.
The gunman sent off smoke grenades in a crowded subway car and then fired at least 33 shots with a 9 mm handgun, police said. Five gunshot victims were in critical condition but all 10 wounded in the shooting were expected to survive. At least a dozen others who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.
One passenger, Jordan Javier, thought the first popping sound he heard was a book dropping. Then there was another pop. People started moving toward the front of the car, he said, and he realized there was smoke.
When the train pulled into the 36th Street station in the Sunset Park neighborhood, people ran out and were directed to another train across the platform. Passengers wept and prayed as they rode away from the scene, Javier said.
“I’m just grateful to be alive,” he said.
The station 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 a fire safety director some two blocks from the shooting scene, said he prays every morning but had a special request on Wednesday.
“I said, ‘God, everything is in your hands,’” Jacques said. “I was antsy, and you can imagine why. Everybody is scared because it just happened.”
The subway system as a whole was operating normally on Wednesday, with police checking backpacks at some stations, including the Atlantic Avenue/Barclay’s Center hub.
Tuesday’s shooter fled in the chaos, leaving behind the gun, extended magazines, a hatchet, detonated and undetonated smoke grenades, a black garbage can, a rolling cart, gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van.
That key led investigators to James, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said. The van was later found, unoccupied, near a station where investigators determined the gunman had entered the subway system, Essig said.
Federal investigators determined the gun used in the shooting was purchased by James at a pawn shop — a licensed firearms dealer — in the Columbus, Ohio, area in 2011, said a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Rambling, profanity-filled YouTube videos apparently posted by James, who is Black, are replete with violent language and bigoted comments, some against other Black people.
In one video, posted a day before the attack, he 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.”
Several videos mention New York’s subways.
A Feb. 20 video says the mayor and governor’s plan to address homelessness and safety in the subway system “is doomed for failure” and refers to himself as a “victim” of the city’s mental health programs. A Jan. 25 video criticizes Adams’ plan to end gun violence.
Adams said in a video statement that the city “will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual.”
Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jim Mustian, Beatrice Dupuy, Karen Matthews, Julie Walker, Deepti Hajela, Michelle L. Price and David Porter in New York contributed to this report, and Michael Kunzelman contributed from College Park, Maryland.