On Tuesday, April 12, 62-year-old Frank James set off two smoke grenades and opened fire at the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn's Sunset Park just before 8:30am local time in New York City (NYC). According to reports, the attack left 29 people injured, including 10 who were shot, though officials have said none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening. An additional 13 people were injured via smoke inhalation, falling down or panic attacks. According to reports, smoke filled the subway car and gunshots rang out, causing people to push their way to the other side of the train in panic and confusion. Officials believe approximately 40 to 50 people were on the train at the time. Immediately following the incident, investigators found a handgun, three extended magazines, two detonated smoke grenades, two non-detonated smoke grenades, a hatchet and keys to a U-Haul van. Police said the gun found at the scene was purchased by James in Ohio in 2011. The U-Haul van was recovered near the Kings Highway Station, and surveillance video showed James leaving it on Tuesday morning. Additionally, witnesses also described the suspect wearing a neon construction jacket which was found on the subway platform containing a receipt for a storage unit in Philadelphia registered to James. According to reports, James visited the storage facility, which was filled with ammunition and more weapons, on the evening before the Tuesdays attack. During a search warrant at a Philadelphia apartment being rented by James, authorities found "an empty magazine for a Glock handgun, a taser, a high-capacity rifle magazine and a blue smoke canister."
Immediately following the attack, James fled the scene, triggering a multi-agency manhunt that lasted for more than 24 hours. James was finally arrested without incident by patrol officers in Manhattan's East Village neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon after allegedly alerting authorities that he was located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Patrol officers arrived and James was in custody by 1:40pm. Yesterday, James made his first court appearance and will be held without bail on federal charges of conducting a violent attack against a mass transportation system. If convicted, he could spend life in prison. According to the New York City Police Department (NYPD), James allegedly had nine prior arrests in New York dating from 1992 to 1998, including possession of burglary tools, criminal sex act, and theft of service. James had three arrests in New Jersey in 1991, 1992 and 2007 for trespassing, larceny and disorderly conduct. James was also arrested in New Jersey for making terroristic threats, which was subsequently downgraded to a harassment charge.
The subway shooting highlights the ongoing threats towards soft target locations that do not have hardened security measures, such as public transportation. James’ attack occurred at rush hour, when public transportation is known to be crowded. It still was not clear Wednesday why that subway train or that station were targeted, if they were at all. Police left open the possibility that the attack might have been a spur-of-the-moment act.
Over the past 40 years, NYC has endured multiple subway and train shootings, bombing attempts, a vehicular attack on pedestrians. Subway ridership drastically fell during the pandemic as many workers stayed home, and officials say ridership has not returned to its pre-pandemic levels. Major crimes in transit are up this year, resulting in more measures to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system.
There have been more than 100 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year and Tuesday's subway attack is the second mass shooting, defined as at least four people shot, in Brooklyn this year and the fourth in New York State. While the attack is under investigations, it was discovered that James reportedly uploaded many videos on a YouTube channel that included references about violence and mass shootings, including one uploaded on Monday in which he said he's thought about killing people who have presumably hurt him. In another video posted last week, James rants about abuse in churches and racism in the workplace, and using misogynistic and racist language. In a video posted in February, he also criticized a plan by the Adams administration to address safety and homelessness in the subway in part through an expanded presence of mental health professionals. James allegedly called the new effort "doomed to fail" and described his own negative experience with city health workers during a "crisis of mental health back in the '90s, '80s and '70s." Although police have not solidified a possible motive for Tuesday’s violence, the concerning evidence has authorities believing that James intended to engage in a form of mass violence at some point. Identifying hostile behavior in advance allows law enforcement, private enterprises and individuals to further understand violent crime and how to stay ahead in an evolving threat environment.