(NEW YORK) — The man accused of opening fire on a subway train in Brooklyn may have rushed the attack and had more weapons available to possibly commit other shootings, prosecutors revealed Thursday.
As Frank Robert James faced a federal judge for the first time, other revelations into his alleged plot to shoot subway riders were shown, including that he may have been rushed into his action, according to law enforcement sources.
James, 62, was arrested in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said, more than 24 hours into an intense manhunt that began after 10 people were shot on a crowded subway car in Brooklyn.
Police have determined James rode the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, law enforcement sources told ABC News. Detectives are going through hours of footage to piece together the entire timeline of his movements.
James was charged in a criminal complaint with committing a terrorist act on a mass transportation vehicle and was subsequently transferred to federal custody. James faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted, said Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
James didn’t enter a plea during his first court hearing Thursday and only answered a few yes or no questions. U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann ordered him held without bail but did not rule out a future bail application.
Investigators believe James may have rushed the attack, and are working to determine whether James intended to carry out the attack as the train pulled into the 36th Street Station, or whether he set off his smoke grenades sooner than intended, law enforcement sources told ABC News.
As the subway car filled with smoke, it’s believed James knelt on one knee to avoid the rising smoke, and opened fire from that crouched position, sources said. Investigators believe that’s why most of the gunshot wounds were to the legs or hands.
The shooting unfolded on a Manhattan-bound N subway car during the Tuesday morning commute, just before 8:30 a.m. ET, as the train approached the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
A man witnessed mumbling to himself on the subway car donned a gas mask and detonated a smoke canister before pulling out a handgun and firing a barrage of 33 bullets, hitting 10 people, a police official told ABC News.
The gun jammed during the incident, which is believed to have saved lives, a law enforcement official told ABC News.
Smoke poured out of the subway car as the doors opened and screaming riders ran out onto the platform of the station. Bloodied people were seen lying on the floor of the train and the platform.
A total of 29 people were injured, according to hospital officials.
In a court filing, federal prosecutors called the shooting calculated and “entirely premeditated.” They noted James wore a hard hat and construction worker-style jacket as a disguise and then shed them after the gunfire to avoid recognition.
Prosecutors suggested James had the means to carry out more attacks, noting that he had ammunition and other gun-related items in a Philadelphia storage unit.
“The defendant, terrifyingly, opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this city hasn’t seen in more than 20 years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said in court Thursday. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated; it was carefully planned; and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city. The defendant’s mere presence outside federal custody presents a serious risk of danger to the community and he should be detained pending trial.”
James’ defense attorney Mia Eisner-Grynberg called the subway shooting a tragedy but pointed out that initial information can often be wrong. She also lauded James’ actions after the shooting.
“Yesterday Mr. James saw his photograph on the news,” Eisner-Grynberg said. “He called crime stoppers. He told them where he was.”
The lawyer said her client deserves a fair trial like all other defendants.
In court, she asked the judge to order James to undergo psychiatric treatment while in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Brooklyn.
The judge did not immediately respond to the request for psychiatric treatment.
According to the criminal complaint, police recovered two bags from the scene containing, among other items, a Glock 17 pistol, a key to a U-Haul rental vehicle and multiple bank cards, including a debit card with the name Frank James. They also discovered a jacket with reflective tape near the two bags that had a receipt for a storage unit in Philadelphia, which records provided by the facility showed was registered to James, the complaint said.
James was born in New York City and has lived in Philadelphia and Milwaukee in recent years, according to Peace.
The Glock recovered from the scene was lawfully purchased by James in Ohio, according to the complaint.
Records provided by U-Haul showed James rented a white Chevrolet van from the company in Philadelphia on Monday, according to the complaint. The U-Haul vehicle crossed states lines from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and then to New York, the complaint said. Surveillance cameras recorded the van driving over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge before dawn Tuesday and entering Brooklyn, according to the complaint.
At approximately 6:12 a.m. ET, another surveillance camera recorded an individual wearing a yellow hard hat, orange working jacket with reflective tape, carrying a backpack in his right hand and dragging a rolling bag in his left hand, leaving the U-Haul van on foot near West 7th Street and Kings Highway in Brooklyn’s Gravesend neighborhood, according to the complaint.
Police later located the vehicle parked on Kings Highway, about two blocks from a subway stop for the N-train, where investigators believe James entered the mass transit system.
“Based on the preliminary investigation, we believe he was alone,” Mayor Eric Adams told “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.
Senior law enforcement officials told ABC News they also uncovered a number of social media posts and videos tied to James, including, police said, “race-based grievances and conspiracy theory narratives.”
Police added, “James made several statements indicating that he suffers from a deteriorated mental and emotional state, including claims of severe post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as at least one video that includes a potential indicator of his intent to conduct an act of violence.”
The investigation was complicated by the fact that none of the surveillance cameras inside the 36th Street subway station were working at the time of the attack, a police official told ABC News. The cameras, which are aimed at turnstiles, didn’t transmit in real-time due to a computer malfunction, a source said. The same glitch impacted cameras at the stops before and after 36th Street. Investigators said they are looking into how this malfunction happened.
MTA chief Janno Lieberman confirmed that a failed internet connection prevented cameras at three Brooklyn stations, including 36th street, from properly transmitting images. Lieber reiterated James was caught on other subway station cameras, contributing to the successful apprehension.
James was ultimately apprehended after police received a tip that he was in a McDonald’s near 6th Street and 1st Avenue. When responding officers didn’t see James at the fast-food restaurant, they drove around the area and spotted him near St. Marks Place and First Avenue, where he was taken into custody at around 1:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, according to police.
Sources told ABC News that James may have called police on himself. Among the calls to NYPD Crime Stoppers was reportedly someone who said: “I think you’re looking for me. I’m seeing my picture all over the news, and I’ll be around this McDonalds.”
James allegedly gave his name and a description of what he was wearing, according to sources. He said his phone battery was dying and he would be either in the McDonald’s charging his phone or out front, according to sources. A New York City Police Department official told ABC News investigators are reviewing the 911 call.
When officers didn’t find the suspect in the McDonald’s, a block away they encountered pedestrians who told officers they found James, sources said. James was found standing at a kiosk charging his phone, according to sources.
ABC News’ Luke Barr, Mark Crudele, Alex Hosenball, Joshua Hoyos, Soo Rin Kim, Josh Margolin, Christopher Looft and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
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