New York subway attack: Frank R. James held without bail as police seek motive
NEW YORK - Frank R. James, 62, the suspect in the shooting of 10 people aboard an N train in Sunset Park, Brooklyn was ordered held without bail Thursday during his arraignment in Brooklyn federal court.
Prosecutors described him as having terrified an "entire city."
Brought into a Brooklyn federal court without handcuffs, a subdued Frank James, 62, softly answered standard questions about whether he understood the charges and the purpose of the brief hearing. His lawyer later asked the public not to prejudge him.
James faces federal terrorism-related charges and could spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty of throwing smoke grenades and opening fire on a crowded train during the morning rush earlier in the week.
After a 30-hour manhunt, James was arrested without incident after a tipster — thought by police to be James himself — said he could be found near a McDonald’s on the Lower East Side. Mayor Eric Adams triumphantly proclaimed "We got him!"
"The defendant terrifyingly opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way the city hasn’t seen in more than 20 years," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara K. Winik said, apparently referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city," she said.
The public defender representing James told reporters outside the courthouse that her client called the police hotline in an effort to "help."
"He called Crime Stoppers to help, he told them where he was," Mia Eisner-Grynberg said. "The initial press and police reports in cases like this one are often inaccurate. Mr. James is entitled to a fair trial, and we will ensure that he will receive one."
While James was in court, Hourari Benkada was in a hospital bed with a bullet wound in his leg.
Benkada said he was just feet away from the gunman on the train and has struggled to sleep since. Tuesday's horrific scene keeps replaying in his mind.
"I’m still shocked about it," Benkada said in a video interview Thursday, grimacing in pain as he recalled the attack.
He had headphones on, music blaring, as smoke began filling the subway car. He initially thought it was a small fire. But the smoke "kept escalating to black, black smoke like 9/11," he said, "and the whole train was pitch-black."
Then there were gunshots, screams and a scramble for safety. Benkada said he tried to shield a pregnant woman from getting hit during the mayhem, and as people pushed forward, a gunshot tore into his knee.
The shooting victims, who range in age from 16 to 60, are all expected to survive.
James posted dozens of videos ranting about race, violence, and his struggles with mental illness. One video shows a silent shot of a packed NYC subway car in which James raises his finger to point out passengers, one by one.
Investigators say he had an erratic work history, arrests for a string of mostly low-level crimes, and a storage locker with more ammo. He had hours of rambling, bigoted, profanity-laced videos on his YouTube channel that point to a deep, simmering anger.
"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," says James in a video where he takes on the moniker "Prophet of Doom."
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A prime trove of evidence, they said, is his YouTube videos. He seems to have opinions about nearly everything — racism in America, New York City’s new mayor, the state of mental health services, 9/11, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Black women.
A federal criminal complaint cited one in which James ranted about too many homeless people on the subway and put the blame on New York City’s mayor.
"What are you doing, brother?" he said in the video posted March 27. "Every car I went to was loaded with homeless people. It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand."
James then railed about the treatment of Black people in an April 6 video cited in the complaint, saying, "And so the message to me is: I should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting."
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In a video posted a day before the attack, James criticizes crime against Black people and says things would only change if certain people were "stomped, kicked and tortured" out of their "comfort zone."
Surveillance cameras spotted James entering the subway system turnstiles Tuesday morning, dressed as a maintenance or construction worker in a yellow hard hat and orange working jacket with reflective tape.
Police say fellow riders heard him say only "oops" as he set off one smoke grenade in a crowded subway car as it rolled into a station. He then set off a second smoke grenade and started firing, police said. In the smoke and chaos that ensued, police say James made his getaway by slipping into a train that pulled in across the platform and exited after the first stop.
Left behind at the scene was 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, police said.
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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.
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.
James had no felony convictions and was not prohibited from purchasing or owning a firearm. Police said the gun used in the attack was legally purchased at an Ohio pawn shop in 2011. A search of James' Philadelphia storage unit and apartment turned up at least two types of ammunition, including the kind used with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a taser and a blue smoke cannister.
Police said James was born and raised in New York City. In his videos, he said he finished a machine shop course in 1983 then worked as a gear machinist at Curtiss-Wright, an aerospace manufacturer in New Jersey, until 1991 when he was hit by a one-two punch of bad news: He was fired from his job and, soon after, his father with whom he had lived in New Jersey died.
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Records show James filed a complaint against the aerospace company in federal court soon after he lost his job alleging racial discrimination, but it was dismissed a year later by a judge. He says in one video, without offering specifics, that he "couldn’t get any justice for what I went through."
A spokesperson for Curtiss-Wright didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
James describes going in and out of several mental health facilities, including two in the Bronx in the 1970s.
"Mr. Mayor, let me say to you I’m a victim of your mental health program in New York City," James says in a video earlier this year, adding he is "full of hate, full anger and bitterness."
PHOTOS: NEW YORK SUBWAY ATTACK
James says he later was a patient at Bridgeway House, a mental health facility in New Jersey, although that could not be immediately confirmed. Messages left with the facility were not returned.
"My goal at Bridgeway in 1997 was to get off Social Security and go back to f------ work," he says in a video, adding that he enrolled in a college and took a course in computer-aided design and manufacturing.
James says he eventually got a job at telecommunications giant Lucent Technologies in Parsippany, New Jersey, but says he ended up getting fired and returned to Bridgeway House, this time not as a patient but as an employee on the maintenance staff. A message seeking comment was sent to Lucent Technologies.
"I just want to work. I want to be a person that’s productive," he said.
Touches of that earnest, struggling man showed up after James’ parked car was hit in Milwaukee. Eugene Yarbrough, pastor of Mt. Zion Wings of Glory Church of God in Christ next door to James’ apartment, said James was impressed that the pastor owned up to hitting the car. Neither James nor anyone else was there to see the accident. And James called him up to say so.
"I just couldn’t believe it would be him," Yarbrough said. "But who knows what people will do?"
With the Associated Press