New York police on Tuesday night identified a man they called a “person of interest” in the mass shooting on a crowded subway train in Brooklyn during the morning rush hour earlier in the day that injured nearly of two dozen people, five of them seriously.
Police say the man, Frank R. James, 62, rented a U-Haul pickup truck in Philadelphia. A key to the van, they said, was found in a collection of personal effects on the train that they believe belonged to the shooter, including a 9-millimeter Glock handgun, three ammunition magazines, a hatchet, fireworks and a liquid believed to be gasoline. .
Police found the van abandoned on a street late Tuesday afternoon, about five blocks from Kings Highway station, where they say the shooter boarded the subway, and five miles from the station 36th Street, where the shooting took place.
Mr James remains at large, James Essig, the police department’s chief of detectives, told a news conference at police headquarters.
“We are working to locate him to determine his connection to the subway shooting, if any,” Chief Essig said.
Mr. James has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, police said.
He appears to have posted dozens of videos on YouTube, where he aired current events in lengthy vitriolic rants. He blamed black women for violence among black people and pointed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as proof that white people are genocidal.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m., police said, a burly, dark-skinned man wearing a work vest and hard hat donned a gas mask as a crowded N train approached the 36th Street station in the Sunset Park neighborhood, threw two smoke grenades at the floor of the car and began firing the gun. Thirty-three shots later, he fled.
Ten people were hit by gunfire, police said. Five of the victims were seriously injured, but none of their injuries were life-threatening, the fire department said. The 10 gunshot victims made the shooting the worst in New York City subway history. Thirteen other people suffered injuries related to smoke inhalation, falls or panic attacks, Chief Essig said. Authorities are offering a $50,000 reward for the shooter’s capture.
The shooting came as the city was already struggling to deal with both a rise in citywide shootings and a rise in crime and unrest on the subway that scared commuters back into a system transit system that has seen ridership plummet during the pandemic. It sparked panic and chaos on board the train, in the station and surrounding streets and sent nearby schools into closures that lasted much of the day.
Mayor Eric Adams said the search for the shooter was hampered by the fact that at least one 36th Street subway station security camera that could have captured the scene was not working. There was a “camera system malfunction at this particular station”, Mr Adams told WCBS 880 radio.
The U-Haul van was spotted outside an apartment building on West Third Street just off the Kings Highway shopping street in the Gravesend neighborhood shortly after 4.30pm, authorities said. The address was a five minute walk from Kings Highway station.
The U-Haul was found after a man who lives in the Highlawn, an apartment building across the street, called police to report it. In an interview, the man said his superintendent complained to him that morning about a pickup truck with Arizona license plates blocking the driveway, preventing him from moving his car. The tenant said he later heard about the van hunt on former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s radio show.
The N train winds through working-class neighborhoods filled with immigrants from all over Asia and Latin America. As the shootout unfolded and the train doors swung open, sending smoke billowing from the 36th Street station, frightened passengers fled, many of them rushing onto a seated R train on the other side of the quay. Tube seats and cars were streaked with blood as people called for help.
John Butsikares, 15, a freshman at Brooklyn Technical High School, said his ride on a northbound R train from Bay Ridge had been quiet — until the train approached 36th Street. When the doors opened, the driver ordered the passengers on the platform to rush inside the R.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “There was just panic.”
Jose Echevarria, 50, an electrician on his way to work in Manhattan, said he was about to switch from R to N when he saw smoke and gunfire on N and people were running away.
He said he grabbed a young man who had been shot in the leg and was bleeding profusely and helped him onto the R train. “He was so scared,” Mr Echevarria said. The young man told Mr Echevarria he first saw the shooter at New Utrecht Avenue station, four stops short of 36th Street.
Around the 36th Street station, dozens of police vehicles with flashing lights cluttered the streets and helicopters flew overhead.
“We saw an ambulance come out with a stretcher with a person on it,” said Silvana Guerrero, 20, who works at the nearby Sunset Bagels Cafe & Grill. “Their leg was injured – I don’t know exactly what happened or what was going on. And then, we saw after that, two ambulances come out, with two people, like, jumping on one leg.
The report was provided by Jonah E. Bromwich, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Joseph Goldstein, Andrew Hinderaker, Sadef Ali Kully, Ana Ley, Chelsia Rose Marcius William K. Rashbaum and Ashley Southall.