A man who posted numerous social media videos decrying the US as a racist place awash in violence and recounting his struggle with mental illness remained at large Wednesday, a day after an attack on a subway train in Brooklyn left 10 people wounded by gunfire.
Mayor Eric Adams said in a series of media interviews that investigators now consider Frank R. James a suspect in the shooting. Police had initially said the 62-year-old was being sought for questioning because he had rented a van possibly connected to the attack, but weren't sure whether he was responsible for the shooting.
Adams, speaking to NPR on Wednesday morning, did not offer details on why officials were now seeking James as a suspect beyond citing "new information that became available to the team.”
"We are going to continue to close the loop around him and bring him in, and continue the investigation into this horrific act against innocent New Yorkers,” the Democrat said on MSNBC.
The gunman sent off smoke grenades in a crowded subway car and then fired at least 33 shots with a 9 mm handgun, police said. Five gunshot victims were in critical condition but all 10 wounded in the shooting were expected to survive. At least a dozen others who escaped gunshot wounds were treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.
The shooter escaped in the chaos, but left behind numerous clues, including the gun, ammunition magazines, a hatchet, smoke grenades, gasoline and the key to a U-Haul van.
That key led investigators to James, a New York City-area native who had more recent addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin.
Federal investigators determined the gun used in the shooting was purchased by James at a pawn shop - a licensed firearms dealer - in the Columbus, Ohio, area in 2011, said a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The van was found, unoccupied, near a station where investigators determined the gunman had entered the subway system. No explosives or firearms were found in the van, a law enforcement official said. Police did find other items, including pillows, suggesting he may have been sleeping or planned to sleep in the van, the official said.
Investigators believe James drove up from Philadelphia on Monday and have reviewed surveillance video showing a man matching his physical description coming out of the van early Tuesday morning, the official said. Other video shows James entering a subway station in Brooklyn with a large bag, the official said.
In addition to analyzing financial and telephone records connected to James, investigators have also been reviewing hours of rambling, profanity-filled videos James posted on YouTube and other social media platforms - replete with violent language and bigoted comments, some against other Black people - as they try to discern a motive.
In one video, posted a day before the attack, James criticizes crime against Black people and says drastic action is needed.
"You got kids going in here now taking machine guns and mowing down innocent people,” James says. "It’s not going to get better until we make it better,” he said, adding that he thought things would only change if certain people were "stomped, kicked and tortured” out of their "comfort zone.”
In another video he says, "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. There’s nothing going to stop that.”
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the posts "concerning" and officials tightened security for Adams, who was already isolating following a positive COVID-19 test Sunday.
Several videos mention New York's subways. A Feb. 20 video says the mayor and governor’s plan to address homelessness and safety in the subway system "is doomed for failure” and refers to himself as a "victim” of the city's mental health programs. A Jan. 25 video criticizes Adams’ plan to end gun violence.
The Brooklyn subway station where passengers fled the smoke-filled train in the attack was open as usual Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the violence.
Commuter Jude Jacques, who takes the D train to his job as a fire safety director some two blocks from the shooting scene, said he prays every morning but had a special request on Wednesday.
"I said, ‘God, everything is in your hands,’” Jacques said. "I was antsy, and you can imagine why. Everybody is scared because it just happened.”