Subway Attack Suspect Called CrimeStoppers on Himself

Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The ranting suspect wanted in a mass shooting on the New York City subway called CrimeStoppers on himself from a McDonald’s Wednesday—ending a daylong manhunt in which cops followed a string of clues that led them to an arsenal of weapons.

Frank Robert James, 62, is facing several charges, including terrorism against a mass transit system, after letting off two smoke bombs then opening fire in a subway car in Sunset Park on Tuesday morning, injuring at least two dozen people. Two law enforcement sources told The Daily Beast that James called CrimeStoppers from the fast food joint but left before cops arrived. Three “Good Samaritans,” one of whom appeared to be a 21-year-old camera installer named Zach, then spotted him a couple of blocks away and flagged down the officers, the officials said.

“My fellow New Yorkers: we got him,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at a Wednesday press conference announcing the arrest.

A criminal complaint filed Wednesday offered a glimpse into the extraordinary 30-hour hunt to identify, locate, and eventually handcuff James.

“This was a great example of local and federal law enforcement coming together to stop an individual from creating even more destruction,” former NYPD Det. Sgt. Joseph Giacalone, who now teaches at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told The Daily Beast.

James fled the scene of the shooting but left behind a wealth of evidence, including a 9mm Glock, three extended-capacity magazines, a backpack, a bag of fireworks and smoke canisters, a hatchet, a spray bottle of gasoline, and a credit card that he used to rent a U-Haul truck in Philadelphia.

The complaint notes that he also left an orange jacket with reflective tape on the subway platform with a receipt in one of the pockets for a storage unit in Philadelphia—which became crucial to identifying him.

“Records from Lyft revealed that James visited the storage facility at approximately 6:17 p.m. on April 11, 2022, the day before the attack,” the complaint states.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The gunman worse construction gear as he boarded the subway on Tuesday morning.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">NYPD</div>

The gunman worse construction gear as he boarded the subway on Tuesday morning.

NYPD

Investigators say they searched the storage unit and found “9mm ammunition, a threaded 9mm pistol barrel that allows for a silencer or suppresser [sic] to be attached, targets and .223 caliber ammunition, which is used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.”

At an apartment James rented in Philadelphia for 15 days last month, investigators say they found “an empty magazine for a Glock handgun, a taser, a high-capacity rifle magazine, and a blue smoke cannister [sic].”

As authorities scoured the apartment on Tuesday night, a MetroCard purchased with the credit card was swiped at a Brooklyn subway station, a law enforcement source told The Daily Beast. A U-Haul rented in Philadelphia days ago with the same credit card was also found in Brooklyn, about five miles from the scene of the shooting.

Revealed: Video Threats and Slurs From Man Sought in New York Subway Attack

Once investigators established James’ identity, they dug into his history. NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig told reporters Wednesday that James had nine prior arrests in New York City between 1992 and 1998, including possession of burglary tools, criminal sex acts, theft of services, and criminal tampering. He also has a criminal history in Wisconsin and New Jersey, where he had previously lived.

None of those offenses were felonies, meaning the 9mm Glock he allegedly used in Tuesday’s attack was obtained legally. The Columbus Police Department confirmed to The Daily Beast that he bought the gun over the internet 11 years ago in Ohio. In order to comply with state laws, he had it sent to a local pawnshop named Lev’s, which is a federal firearm licensee, said Jeff Brant, an officer with the department’s property recovery unit.

“The pawnshop was just the federal firearms licensed place where the guy from the internet got it sent,” Brant said. “The pawnshop filed the paperwork but didn’t sell the gun.” (A manager at Lev’s Pawnshop denied this, telling The Daily Police that “police are lying.”)

Brant said that James had 12 transactions with pawnshops in Columbus up until 2015. He sold everything from jewelry, a saw, a staple gun, binoculars, and a space heater.

As authorities dug into James’ history, they came across multiple unhinged videos on his Youtube and Facebook in which he threatened violence and ranted about his mental health struggles, the criminal complaint notes.

In YouTube videos posted before the attack, James complained about the city’s subway system and homeless riders.

“What are you doing, brother? What’s happening with this homeless situation?” he asked the mayor. “Every car I went to wa[s] loaded with homeless people. It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand.”

But his exact motive is still unclear, Essig said on Wednesday. James was mumbling to himself moments before the attack but cops are only aware of him making one bizarre remark as he donned a gas mask and pulled smoke canisters out of his wheeled luggage.

After he set off one smoke canister, one witness asked, “What did you do?,” Essig said. “He goes, ‘Oops,’ and then he pops it, then brandishes the firearm and fires 33 times.”

In the social media videos, reviewed by The Daily Beast before YouTube removed them, James went on lengthy diatribes on race, politics, and gun violence—including repeatedly expressing his disdain for Black people and his desire to “kill people.” In one video addressed to Mayor Eric Adams, he said he had been through the city’s mental-health system and experienced a kind of emotional violence that would make someone “go and get a gun and shoot motherfuckers.”

“I’m gonna send a message to the Black sector, particularly, of Facebook. Including—especially—my family. No, no, you’re not gonna like it. Yes, it’s gonna be mean. It’s gonna be ugly. It’s gonna be downright despicable, in some ways,” James said in a July 2019 Facebook video.

“But it’s gonna be factual, from the facts as I have experienced them. You see, I’ve come to a conclusion. And I’ve asked this question in many YouTube videos. Uh, what are we? Black, let’s call ourselves. Are we a people? Or are we just a bunch of [N-word]? I’ve come to the conclusion, actually quite a while ago, that in fact, we’re just a bunch of fucking [N-word].”

He also expressed his hatred for Jewish people in one July 2019 Facebook video, calling them “the ultimate fucking predator.” “They’re the apex predator in this type of society… Look who runs this country in reality, who controls the wealth in this nation: Jews,” he said.

In the days leading up to the subway attack, he filmed himself making his way from Philadelphia to New York in a U-Haul, stopping off at a hotel in New Jersey. “This is where I’m at, the Best Western of Bordentown,” James said. “Here I am, back, back, back in the place where all my troubles started.”

In a video posted to his YouTube on Monday, James spent several minutes saying he does not “want to go to fucking prison,” and while he wants to “kill people” he cannot handle prison.

Keilah Miller, who lived next door to James in the same multiunit house in Milwaukee, described him to The Daily Beast on Wednesday as “definitely a strange neighbor.”

James will be arraigned in Brooklyn Federal court on Thursday. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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