A federal judge in the United States has ordered the man accused of opening fire on a crowded subway train in New York City subway car to be held without bail, after prosecutors said his “terrifying” attack on Tuesday disrupted life in the city in a way not seen in two decades.
Frank James, 62, spoke only to answer “yes” to standard questions during the brief proceeding in a federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday.
James was arrested on Wednesday in lower Manhattan, capping a 30-hour manhunt for the lone suspect wanted in an assault that unnerved riders of the largest and busiest US metropolitan rapid rail network and renewed calls for greater subway security. He is charged with a federal “terrorism” offence that applies to attacks on mass transit systems.
“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 US Attorney Sara K Winik said. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned, and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city.”
In court papers, prosecutors called the shooting calculated, saying that James wore a hard hat and construction worker-style jacket as a disguise and then shed them after the gunfire to avoid recognition. Prosecutors suggested James had the means to carry out more attacks, noting that he had ammunition and other gun-related items in a Philadelphia storage unit.
Police said 10 people were shot outright, five of them hospitalised in critical but stable condition, and 13 others were injured in the stampede of terrified passengers pouring from the smoke-filled subway car onto the platform of the 36th Street station. All were expected to survive.
The gunman vanished in the pandemonium, but investigators said they established James as a suspect when a sweep of the crime scene turned up a credit card in his name and the keys to a van that he had rented and left parked several blocks away.
Authorities at the scene also recovered the Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun used in the attack, along with three extended-ammunition magazines, a torch, a hatchet, a bag of fireworks and a container of gasoline or petrol, according to police and court documents.
At the request of James’s lawyers, Magistrate Roanne Mann said she would ask the US Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide James with “psychiatric attention”, as well as magnesium tablets for leg cramps, at the federal lockup in Brooklyn where he is being held.
Investigators were also examining many hours of videos that James posted on social media, including one a day before the attack, in which he delivered profanity-laced diatribes about racism, society’s treatment of Black people, homelessness and violence. He also talked about his history of psychiatric treatment, and he complained about how New York City’s mayor is dealing with homeless people on subways and with gun violence.
James was born and raised in New York City but had moved to Milwaukee. He had recently left Wisconsin and had briefly lived in Philadelphia.