The man accused of opening fire on a rush-hour New York subway car did so with “premeditated” intentions and had access to a “stockpile” of weapons, prosecutors said Thursday.
Frank James, 62, made his initial appearance in a federal courtroom accused of committing a terrorist attack on mass transit, a federal charge that could bring a life sentence if he is convicted, prosecutors said.
James picked up a U-Haul van Monday in Philadelphia and went to New York City with violent plans, according to a memo filed by the government.
“The defendant committed a premeditated mass shooting on the New York City subway system and then fled the scene, with a stockpile of ammunition and other dangerous items stowed in his storage unit,” the federal prosecutors wrote.
The memo didn’t disclose where the storage unit containing James’ alleged cache of weapons was kept. Law enforcement sources said it was in the Philadelphia metro area.
Law enforcement agents found “9mm ammunition, a threaded 9mm pistol barrel that allows for a silencer or suppresser to be attached, targets, and .223 caliber ammunition, which is used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle” in the storage unit, the memo said.
When James arrived in Brooklyn, he was armed “with all the weapons and tools he needed to carry out the mass attack,” including a Glock pistol, a container of gasoline, a torch and fireworks, prosecutors said.
James wore a hardhat and a bright construction-site-style vest Tuesday, which the government said was tantamount to a “disguise” that he shed immediately after the attack “in order to flee the subway station undetected.”
Law enforcement also recovered a Taser and a high-capacity rifle magazine from his apartment, prosecutors said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann ordered a “permanent order of detention” as the case moves forward but said the defense can apply for bail down the road.
While James’ defense lawyers didn’t object to the judge’s jail order, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Winik said she wanted to be heard on the matter.
“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 told the court. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated, was carefully planned and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city.”
During the brief hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes, James answered a handful of questions from the judge, saying he understood the proceeding and the case filed against him.
He wasn’t asked to enter a plea.
The judge also granted Assistant Federal Defender Mia Eisner-Grynberg’s request that the Bureau of Prisons conduct a psychiatric evaluation supply James with magnesium tablets, which he takes for leg cramps.
James was arrested Wednesday afternoon in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, ending an intense 24-hour-plus search after a gunman unleashed the unprovoked attack on rush-hour commuters in Brooklyn.
James had a Wisconsin driver’s license, $38 cash and a second mobile phone when he was arrested, law enforcement sources told NBC New York. His first cellphone is alleged to have been dropped at the crime scene.
Thursday’s hearing is about 3½ miles from where the attack took place a little before 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The mayhem unfolded aboard a Manhattan-bound N train as it pulled into the 36th Street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
The attacker donned a gas mask, set off two smoke canisters and opened fire with a Glock 9 mm handgun, shooting 33 rounds, which wounded 10 people, police have said.
All of the wounded are expected to survive, but the melee has heightened fears about street crime in New York City, particularly on the subway.
Outside the federal courthouse, Eisner-Grynberg decried the attack, saying it was a “blessing” that no one was killed and that more people weren’t injured.
The Glock jammed during Tuesday’s rampage, preventing the gunman from emptying three magazines that had the capacity to carry 30 rounds each, law enforcement sources said.
“We are also learning about what happened on that train, and we caution against a rush to judgment,” Eisner-Grynberg said. “What we do know is this: Yesterday, Mr. James saw his photograph on the news. He called Crime Stoppers to help. He told them where he was.”
She also confirmed that James called authorities himself, leading to his own arrest.
James even went into detail about the clothes he was wearing and the green backpack he was carrying, law enforcement sources said.
And even if James hadn’t called in on Wednesday afternoon, police were still confident he would have been apprehended soon with officers having flooded the nearby Lower East Side neighborhood earlier, based on another tip, sources said.
Hours after the attack, Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer who made fighting crime a focal point of his campaign last year, announced he would significantly boost police presence on the subway.
Tuesday’s attack will also complicate the debate about return-to-office mandates as some employers seek to bring workers back to desks and cubicles they’ve barely seen over the last two years because of the pandemic.
Myles Miller, Jesse Kirsch, Alec Hernandez and Antonia Hylton contributed.