(NEW YORK) — Frank James posted dozens of videos ranting about race, violence and his struggles with mental illness. One standout is a still shot from a New York City subway train. He raises one finger and points out the passengers.
Even as police arrested James on Wednesday in the Brooklyn subway shooting that wounded 10 people, they were still searching for a motive from a flood of details about the 62-year-old Black man’s life.
An erratic work history. A string of low-level offenses led to the arrests. An additional storage box containing more ammunition. Hours of long, rambling videos, full of profanity and bigotry, on his YouTube channel, that show a deep, simmering anger.
“This nation was born in violence, it’s kept alive by violence or the threat thereof, and it’s going to die a violent death,” says James in a video where he takes on the moniker “Prophet of Doom.”
After a 30-hour manhunt, James was arrested without incident after a tipster — thought by police to be James himself — said he could be found near a McDonald’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Mayor Eric Adams triumphantly proclaimed “We got him!” Police said their top priority was getting the suspect, now charged with a federal terrorism offense, off the streets as they investigate their biggest unanswered question: Why?
His YouTube videos were a prime source of evidence. He seems to have opinions about nearly everything — racism in America, New York City’s new mayor, the state of mental health services, 9/11, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Black women.
A federal criminal complaint cited one in which James ranted about too many homeless people on the subway and put the blame on New York City’s mayor.
“What are you doing, brother?” he said in the video posted March 27. “Every car I went to was loaded with homeless people. It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand.”
James then railed about the treatment of Black people in an April 6 video cited in the complaint, saying, “And so the message to me is: I should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting.”
In a video posted a day before the attack, James criticizes crime against Black people and says things would only change if certain people were “stomped, kicked and tortured” out of their “comfort zone.”
Surveillance cameras caught James in the subway system turnstiles Tuesday morning. He was wearing a yellow hardhat, orange work jacket and reflective tape.
Police say fellow riders heard him say only “oops” as he set off one smoke grenade in a crowded subway car as it rolled into a station. Police said that he then started shooting and set off another smoke bomb. Police say that James fled the scene by jumping into the train and making his escape across the platform.
The gun, magazines extended, a hatchet as well as detonated or undetonated smoke grenades and a small black garbage container were all left at the scene. Police also said they found gasoline and the key of a U-Haul truck.
This key was the one that led investigators to James. It also provided clues about a life filled with anger and setbacks. He bounced between factory jobs and maintenance jobs and got fired twice.
According to investigators, James was arrested 12 times in New York City and New Jersey between 1990 and 2007. These included for burglary tools possession, criminal sex, and trespassing.
James did not have any convictions for felony offenses. He was also allowed to purchase or possess a firearm. According to the police, the weapon used in this attack was legally bought in Ohio from a pawnshop in 2011. A search of James’ Philadelphia storage unit and apartment turned up at least two types of ammunition, including the kind used with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a taser and a blue smoke cannister.
According to police, James was raised and born in New York City. According to his videos, James claimed he completed a machine workshop course in 1983 and then worked at Curtiss-Wright as a Gear Machinist, an aerospace company in New Jersey. He died shortly after.
James, who lost his job due to racial discrimination claims that he filed a lawsuit against the aerospace firm in federal court shortly thereafter. But it was dismissed one year later by a judge. He says in one video, without offering specifics, that he “couldn’t get any justice for what I went through.”
A spokesperson for Curtiss-Wright didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
James describes his experiences in several mental hospitals, including one in New York City’s Bronx in the 1970s.
“Mr. Mayor, let me say to you I’m a victim of your mental health program in New York City,” James says in a video earlier this year, adding he is “full of hate, full anger and bitterness.”
James claimed that he was later admitted to Bridgeway House in New Jersey. This could be verified, however. The facility did not return messages.
“My goal at Bridgeway in 1997 was to get off Social Security and go back to f—— work,” he says in a video, adding that he enrolled in a college and took a course in computer-aided design and manufacturing.
James said that he got a job with Lucent Technologies in Parsippany. But he claims that he got fired. He returned to Bridgeway House this time, though not as a patient, but rather as part of the maintenance staff. Lucent Technologies was contacted with a request for comment.
“I just want to work. I want to be a person that’s productive,” he said.
Touches of that earnest, struggling man showed up after James’ parked car was hit in Milwaukee. Eugene Yarbrough is the pastor at Mt. Zion Wings of Glory Church of God in Christ next door to James’ apartment, said James was impressed that the pastor owned up to hitting the car. James, as well as no other person were present to witness the accident. James called James up to inform him.
“I just couldn’t believe it would be him,” Yarbrough said. “But who knows what people will do?”
This report was contributed by AP reporters Michael Balsamo and Deepti Hajela (Washington), Claudia Lauer (Philadelphia), Todd Richmond in Madison Wisconsin, Carrie Antlfinger (Milwaukee)
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