Who spotted Frank Robert James first?
That’s the question on the minds of many after several sharp-eyed citizen sleuths said they saw the suspected Brooklyn subway shooter wandering Manhattan’s East Village and alerted the NYPD. After police declared the 62-year-old a suspect in Tuesday’s mass shooting that saw 10 people shot and 13 others injured, a $50,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest and indictment.
Photography student Jack Griffin, 17, was on a field trip with his class when he said he spotted James. He said he spotted James on a bench and began taking photos. James then noticed he was being photographed and he started walking away, Griffin said.
Police said it was Griffin’s tip, posted on Twitter at 10:30 a.m., that led them to focus their search on the East Village.
As police closed in, others in the neighborhood spotted James. Portrait painter Lee Vasu owns a gallery in the neighborhood and was having lunch with his family when he saw James.
Zack Tahann was installing security cameras at a nearby store when he spotted James.
“I told the police, this is the guy, he did that problem in Brooklyn, this guy, catch him,” Tahann said. “Thank God we catch him. Thank you very much,” he said as cheers erupted.
Among the numerous tips that came in was one from James himself.
Investigators said James called police to say his phone was dying and he was charging it at a McDonald’s.
So, who will get the $50,000 reward? Griffin will most likely be rewarded the cash.
James was ordered held with bail Thursday in his first court appearance since the violent attack on the Manhattan-bound N train Tuesday.
James did not enter a plea during his appearance in federal court, where he is charged under a statute that prohibits terrorist and violent attacks in mass transit systems. He has also been charged with crossing state lines.
“The defendant, terrifyingly, opened fire on passengers on a crowded subway train, interrupting their morning commute in a way this city hasn’t seen in more than 20 years,” said U.S. Attorney Sara Winik. “The defendant’s attack was premeditated, it was carefully planned, and it caused terror among the victims and our entire city. The defendant’s mere presence outside federal custody presents a serious risk of danger to the community and he should be detained pending trial.”
James’s known criminal history includes 15 prior arrests dating back to the 1990s for a range of offenses including burglary, larceny and disorderly conduct. On Tuesday, James allegedly put on a gas mask, detonated smoke bombs and began firing as the train made its way to the 36th Street and Fourth Avenue train station in Sunset Park at about 8:30 a.m., police said.
New video of James shows him disguised as a transit worker as he entered the subway at the Kings Highway station in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend. James fled once the train entered the station, leaving behind a grisly scene of chaos, officials said. Coughing and staggering, those inside the car stumbled onto the station platform, as others ran in a panic, according to social media videos posted by witnesses.
The bloody attack has left many New Yorkers spooked. Subway ridership dropped 5% the day after the shooting and many straphangers are looking for alternate ways to travel around New York City.