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A gunman in a construction vest donned a gas mask, set off a smoke canister on a rush-hour subway train and shot at least 10 people Tuesday morning, authorities said. The shooter was at large after leaving wounded commuters bleeding on a Brooklyn platform while others ran screaming.
Five people were in critical condition but expected to survive. At least 16 in all were injured in some way in the attack that began on a subway train that pulled into the 36th Street station in the borough’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said that the attack was not being investigated as terrorism, but that she was “not ruling out anything.” FBI agents and members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force surveyed nearby businesses, interviewing witnesses and searching for surveillance footage.
Police helicopters hovered overhead for hours as authorities searched for the shooter, who has now been identified by way of a credit card that was left at the scene. The motive remains unknown. Investigators recovered a firearm at the scene, along with multiple smoke devices and other items they are analyzing, two law enforcement officials said.
Investigators found a U-Haul truck rented by the shooter prior to the attack and are confident he will soon be taken into custody. He has been identified as Frank R. James, who had posted “concerning” videos online about homelessness and NYC Mayor Adams.
James has not yet been taken into custody.
In a rant published online prior to the attack, James decried homelessness and suggested that humanity no longer deserves to be on the planet over its unequal treatment of people.
He also poked fun at those who would pray to be saved from the destruction he planned to wreak on their lives.
“Pray! Pray ’till your [expletive] face falls off,” he says in the video. “Do you not think the Jews who were at Auschwitz didn’t pray? Do you think the Jews at Birkenau didn’t pray and pray and pray?”
“Their prayers did nothing for them, and your prayer ain’t gonna do [expletive] for you when you’re sent to your America Auschwitz,” he said.
Survivors of the attack recounted terrifying details of their ordeal on Tuesday morning.
“My subway door opened into calamity. It was smoke and blood and people screaming,” eyewitness Sam Carcamo told radio station 1010 WINS, saying he saw a gigantic billow of smoke pouring out of the N train once the door opened.
The attack unnerved a city on guard about a rise in gun violence and the ever-present threat of terrorism. It left some New Yorkers jittery about riding the nation’s busiest subway system and prompted officials to increase policing at transportation hubs from Philadelphia to Connecticut.
One rider’s video, shot through a closed door between subway cars, shows a person in a hooded sweatshirt raising an arm and pointing at something — possibly the door to a conductor’s booth — as five bangs sound. In another video, smoke and people pour out of a subway car and wails erupt as passengers run for an exit while a few others limp off the train. One falls to the platform.
Other video and photos from the scene show people tending to bloodied passengers lying on the platform, some amid what appear to be small puddles of blood, and another person on the floor of a subway car.
Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC-FM, told its news site Gothamist she was riding the train when passengers from the car behind hers started banging on the door between them.
“There was a lot of loud pops, and there was smoke in the other car,” she said. “And people were trying to get in and they couldn’t, they were pounding on the door to get into our car.”
As police searched for the shooter, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned New Yorkers to be vigilant.
“This individual is still on the loose. This person is dangerous,” the Democrat said at news conference. “This is an active shooter situation right now in the city of New York.”
Fire and police officials were investigating reports that there had been an explosion, but Sewell said at a press conference just after noon that there were no known explosive devices. Multiple smoke devices were found on the scene, said mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy.
After people streamed out of the train, quick-thinking transit workers ushered passengers to another train across the platform for safety, system chief Janno Lieber noted.
High school student John Butsikaris was riding the other train when he saw a conductor urging everyone to get in. He thought there might just have been a mundane problem until the next stop, when he heard screams for medical attention and his train was evacuated.
“I’m definitely shook,” the 15-year-old told The Associated Press. “Even though I didn’t see what happened, I’m still scared, because it was like a few feet away from me, what happened.”
No transit workers were physically hurt, according to their union. Besides gunshot wounds, the injured riders were treated for smoke inhalation, shrapnel and panic.
President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the incident. New York Mayor Eric Adams, who is isolating following a positive COVID-19 test on Sunday, said in a video statement that the city “will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual.”
The incident happened on a subway line that runs through south Brooklyn in a neighborhood predominantly home to Hispanic and Asian communities and about a 15-minute train ride to Manhattan. Local schools, including Sunset Park High School across the street from the station, were locked down.
Danny Mastrogiorgio of Brooklyn had just dropped his son off at school when he saw a crush of passengers, some of them wounded, running up the subway stairway at the nearby 25th Street station in panic. At least two had visible leg injuries, he said.
“It was insane,” he told the AP. “No one knew exactly what was going on.”
Allan Lee was running his business, Cafe Nube, when a half-dozen police cars and fire vehicles suddenly converged on the block that contains the 36th Street station.
“Then they started ushering people that were on the block to the adjacent block and then closed off the subway entrance,” he told the AP. When he noticed bomb squad officers and dogs, he was certain it was no everyday subway problem.
New York City has faced a spate of shootings and high-profile incidents in recent months, including on the city’s subways. One of the most shocking was in January, when a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train by a stranger.
Adams, a Democrat a little over 100 days into his term, has made cracking down on crime — especially on the subways — a focus of his early administration, pledging to send more police officers into stations and platforms for regular patrols. It wasn’t immediately clear whether officers had already been inside the station when the shootings occurred.
“We say: No more. No more mass shootings. No more disrupting lives. No more creating heartbreak for people just trying to live their lives as normal New Yorkers,” Hochul said. “It has to end.”
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