NEW YORK — The man accused of shooting 10 people in a crowded Brooklyn subway car made his first appearance in federal court on Thursday, where prosecutors described him as a danger to the community and someone who had menaced an entire city.
Frank James, 62, was arrested Wednesday in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood and charged with one federal count of a terrorist attack or other violence on a mass transit system, for which he could face life in prison.
He is accused of boarding a subway train in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning and setting off a smoke-emitting device, before opening fire on his fellow commuters with a Glock 17 pistol.
Ten people suffered gunshot wounds and many more were injured by smoke or while trying to flee, but no one died.
James was arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn, less than 3 miles from the 36th Street subway stop in the Sunset Park neighborhood, where he is accused of carrying out the rampage.
After he waived his right to a preliminary hearing and to oppose an order of detention, Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann ordered James to be held without bail, pending his trial.
Mann said the government's charging complaint against James "speaks for itself."
Federal prosecutor Sara Winik told the court that James still posed a "serious risk of danger to the community."
"In this case, 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," Winik said, making an apparent allusion to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned, and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city."
In a letter to the court prior to the hearing, US Attorney Breon Peace also said the attack was "entirely premeditated."
James's court-appointed public defender, Mia Eisner-Grynberg, requested that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
She also asked that James receive magnesium tablets while in jail, for leg cramps she said he suffers from.
Authorities were able to trace James, a resident of both Milwaukee and Philadelphia, through a series of fortunate discoveries.
At the scene, investigators found a bag he was said to have abandoned as he fled that contained the pistol, which records show he purchased in Ohio. The bag also contained a bank card in his name and a key to a U-Haul that he had picked up in Philadelphia on Monday.
Surveillance footage showed the van driving over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge shortly after 4 a.m. on Tuesday.
When authorities searched an apartment and a storage locker in Philadelphia registered to James, they found ammunition, an empty magazine for a Glock handgun, and a blue smoke canister, among other items.
It took authorities more than 30 hours to finally apprehend James, during which time they launched a massive manhunt that included sending alerts to cellphone users across the city.
He was arrested after being spotted in the East Village by several people, including Zack Tahhan, a 21-year-old Syrian-born man who said he had been installing security cameras in a store when he recognized James and alerted police.
After the arrest, Tahhan won widespread praise on social media and on the streets of New York, where people cheered him and called him a hero.
Prosecutors have not yet outlined the full motive for the rampage.
Per the government, James was previously arrested almost a dozen times over 30 years, accused of mostly low-level crimes that included reckless endangerment, larceny, and disorderly conduct.
"Individually these offenses could be seen as unremarkable, but taken together they paint a picture of a person with a penchant for defying authority and who is unwilling to conform his conduct to the law," US Attorney Peace wrote in his letter.
Prior to his alleged subway attack, James posted a series of videos on YouTube in which he complained to New York City Mayor Eric Adams about the number of people experiencing homelessness riding the subway.
"What are you doing, brother? What’s happening with this homeless situation?” James says in one video. “Every car I went to wa[s] loaded with homeless people. It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand.”
In another video, he instructs viewers on how to make a Molotov cocktail.
The day before the attack, he posted a video in which he says he wants to "watch people die," but that the prospect of going to jail gave him pause.
“It’s important to think about what you’re going to do before you do it," he says in the video.