Frank R. James, who law enforcement officials say carried out the worst attack on New York’s subway system in years, was arrested on Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the start of a widespread search that began after at least 10 people were shot at a Brooklyn train station. .
“We got it,” said Mayor Eric Adams, the first official to speak at an afternoon news conference. “We got it.”
Mr James was arrested in the East Village, officials said, and was charged in a criminal complaint with committing a terrorist act on a public transport system. Breon S. Peace, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York who filed the charges, said Mr James could face life in prison if convicted.
Mr James, 62, wore a plain blue shirt and dark trousers as he was handcuffed outside the Ninth Precinct on East Fifth Street on Wednesday afternoon. He is scheduled to appear in federal court on Thursday. A court-appointed lawyer for Mr. James did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr James was apprehended on a tip from a McDonald’s near Sixth Street and First Avenue, officials said. According to two law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation, it appears Mr James himself called the police tip line.
“We were able to shrink his world quickly,” New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. “He had nowhere left to run.”
The capture, which sparked a cascade of videos and tweets from people who witnessed the arrest or said they helped identify Mr James, ended a manhunt that began in the rush hour Tuesday morning after a shooting in the Sunset Park subway station left at least 23 people injured.
The investigation was complicated by the malfunctioning of at least one security camera at the station where the shooting took place. A senior law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said it appeared none of the security cameras were fully operational.
Two days before the shooting, New York City Transit employees reported that the camera system at that station and two adjacent ones was malfunctioning, The Times reported Wednesday, citing transit officials. Maintenance workers attributed the problem to a fiber optic cable connection failure, The Times reported.
But cameras captured Mr. James entering the subway on Tuesday morning at the Kings Highway N train stop in Brooklyn, said James Essig, chief of detectives for the police department. As an N train approached the 36th Street station, Mr James, wearing a construction worker’s helmet and vest and gas mask, threw two smoke grenades at the ground and set off a barrage of gunfire around 8:30 a.m., officials said.
After the shooting, passengers piled into an R across the smoke-covered platform. They came out en masse from the 25th Street station, a stop away. Footage showed Mr James going there, Chief Essig said.
Investigators found video of Mr. James entering the Seventh Avenue subway station in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, more than a mile away, around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, Chief Essig said.
He eluded law enforcement for more than a day.
On the train, police discovered an array of personal effects, including a 9mm Glock handgun, three rounds of ammunition, a credit card bearing Mr James’s name and the key to a U-van. Haul.
The vehicle was found at West Seventh Street and Kings Highway in the Gravesend neighborhood late Tuesday afternoon, two blocks from the N train stop where Mr James entered the subway and about five miles from the station where the shooting had taken place.
Mr. James reserved and prepaid for the van on April 6 and picked it up in Philadelphia on Monday, according to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court. Around 4:11 a.m. Tuesday, the day of the shooting, surveillance cameras captured him crossing the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.
At 6:12 a.m., according to the complaint, a surveillance camera recorded a person leaving the van where it was later found, wearing a yellow hard hat and orange work jacket, carrying a backpack and pulling a wheeled bag.
The person matched the description provided by at least one witness to the attack.
The extensive manhunt for Mr. James, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, included the extensive overhaul of subway security cameras; a 17-plus-block canvas in Sunset Park for store surveillance footage; and a search for information on the gun, the serial number of which was found in federal records indicating Mr. James purchased it in 2011.
Investigators seized an empty magazine for a Glock handgun like the one used in the shooting, as well as a stun gun, from an apartment that Mr. James was renting in Philadelphia, according to the complaint.
Authorities also searched a storage facility there which Mr James visited the day before the attack, according to the complaint. There they found ammunition for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm pistol.
Mr. James has had numerous arrests in his past, officials said, including nine in New York, mostly for misdemeanors, and three in New Jersey.
While investigators have identified no clear motive for the attack, Mr James’ social media posts – including combative videos in recent days on YouTube – have come under scrutiny and figured in the complaint.
In a video cited in the complaint, Mr. James addressed Mr. Adams with grievances about the city’s subway system: “What are you doing bro? What’s going on with this homeless situation? He added that every car he got in was full of homeless people, saying, “It was so bad I couldn’t even stand up.”
Michael Gold and Andy Newman contributed report.