By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Authorities on Wednesday arrested the man suspected of setting off smoke bombs and shooting 10 passengers in a New York subway car, capping a manhunt that had renewed fears of violence in the city’s transit system.
New York’s police commissioner said the suspect, Frank James, was arrested with the help of tips from residents following a 30-hour search. He faces a federal charge for violating a law prohibiting attacks on mass transit.
“My fellow new Yorkers, we got him. We got him,” Mayor Eric Adams told a press conference. “We’re going to protect the people of this city and apprehend those who believe they can bring terror to everyday New Yorkers.”
Keechant Sewell, the police commissioner, said at the press conference that James had nine prior arrests in New York and three in New Jersey. If convicted of charges in Tuesday’s attack, he could face life in prison, officials said.
James, 62, fired a semi-automatic handgun that was later recovered at the scene, along with three extended-ammunition magazines, a hatchet, some consumer-grade fireworks and a container of gasoline, police said.
In addition to those shot, five of whom were in critical but stable condition on Wednesday, 13 other people were injured in a panicked rush to flee the smoke-filled train. All of the victims were expected to survive.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) determined that James bought the gun used in the attack in 2011, John DeVito, an ATF official in New York, told the press conference.
The attack was the latest burst of violence that has plagued the largest U.S. city transit system, and posed a new challenge for Adams, who has tried to halt declining ridership during the coronavirus pandemic and ensure public safety.
James was apprehended in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood after being spotted by bystanders who posted pictures of him to social media that alerted police, local media reported.
Authorities told reporters that an investigation was continuing into what James’ motive might have been. Their focus was partly on numerous social media messages and videos posted by the suspect.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) says James, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, left keys to a rented U-Haul van at the crime scene in the 36th Street station, in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
Investigators found a number of social media posts linked to a person named Frank James that mentioned homelessness and Adams, Sewell said. A YouTube account apparently belonging to James was taken down Wednesday “for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines,” the video platform said.
Attempts by Reuters to reach any of the phone numbers associated with James were unsuccessful.
In an interview with the New York Times, James’ sister, Catherine James Robinson, said he had “been on his own his whole life” and that she was surprised by the incident.
“I don’t think he would do anything like that. That’s not in his nature to do anything like that,” she said.
NO OTHER OPTION
On Wednesday morning, with the gunman then still at large, New Yorkers went on with their commuted, saying the violence would not deter them.
“It was terrible. I was sad; I had to explain it to my daughter,” commuter Matthew Mosk said. “I was lucky I wasn’t on the train because I usually commute around that time.”
Another man riding the subway, Nathan Sandidge, said: “I don’t really have any other option. It’s what we have to do to get to work. So, just kind of roll with whatever we have to deal with.”
Ridership has taken a downturn during the pandemic, dropping from 5.5 million trips per week day to an average of 3.3 million last week. New York has also seen a sharp rise in violent crime, including seemingly random attacks on the subway.
The transit violence has included a number of attacks in which passengers were shoved onto train tracks from platforms, including a Manhattan woman whose murder was seen as part of a surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.
After Tuesday’s attack, Mayor Adams pledged to double the number of officers assigned to subway security. He has prioritized increasing police patrols and expanding mental health outreach programs to combat violence.
The mayor told MSNBC on Wednesday the city was looking at new technologies for metal detectors that would keep people safe while minimizing disruption.
“There are new models that are being used at ball games, ballparks, hospitals, where you’re not stopping to go through your belongings, you simply walk in through a device,” Adams said.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, and Chris Gallagher and Katharine Jackson in Washington; writing by Rami Ayyub; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)