US police identify 'person of interest' in Brooklyn shooting
NEW YORK (AFP, REUTERS) - New York police say they have identified a "person of interest" in connection with Tuesday's (April 12) subway shooting in Brooklyn.
The authorities are hunting for Frank James, a 62-year-old man described by police from eyewitness accounts as a man of heavy build, wearing an orange vest, a grey sweatshirt, a green helmet and surgical mask.
New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Keechant Sewell said a U-Haul van believed to be connected to the shooting was later located in Brooklyn, but the perpetrator remains at large.
Police said they recovered the key to the van at the crime scene and it had been rented in Philadelphia. James had addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, officials said.
Attempts by Reuters to reach any of the phone numbers associated with James were unsuccessful.
The attack unfolded as a Manhattan-bound subway train on the N line was pulling into an underground station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighbourhood. The gunman removed two canisters from his bag and opened them, sending smoke throughout the train car.
Police said the man then fired 33 rounds from a Glock 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, which was later recovered along with three extended ammunition magazines, a hatchet, some consumer-grade fireworks and a container of gasoline.
The shooting injured at least 17 people. Ten people were hit directly by gunfire, including five hospitalised in critical but stable condition. Authorities said seven others were injured by shrapnel or otherwise hurt in the chaos as panicked riders fled the smoke-filled subway car, some collapsing to the pavement as they poured onto the platform of the 36th Street station.
The fire department said two of those hurt were treated at the scene. According to CNN, a total of 29 people who suffered various injuries in the incident turned up at area hospitals, though most of them appeared to have been emergency room walk-ins who were treated and discharged.
Outside the station, in an area known for its thriving Chinatown and views of the Statue of Liberty, authorities shut down a dozen or so blocks and cordoned off the immediate vicinity with crime-scene tape. Schools in the neighbourhood were placed under security lockdowns.
John Butsikares, a 15-year-old who passed through the 36th Street station soon after the incident, said the train’s conductor ordered everyone on the station platform to get on board.
“I didn’t know what happened. It was a scary moment. And then at 25th Street (the next station) we were all told to get off. There was people screaming for medical assistance,” said Butsikares, who was going to school.
Sewell said earlier that the shooting was not being immediately treated as an act of terrorism. There was no known motive for the attack, but investigators found a number of social media posts linked to an individual named Frank James that mentioned homelessness and the New York City mayor, Sewell said.
The authorities are offering a US$50,000 (S$68,200) reward for information leading to James's arrest.
‘Surge of crime'
New York, the nation’s most populous city, has seen a sharp rise in violent crime during the pandemic, including a string of seemingly random attacks on its subways. The system is one of the world’s oldest and most extensive.
The subway violence has included a number of attacks in which passengers have been pushed onto the tracks from platforms, including a Manhattan woman whose murder was seen as part of a surge in hate-driven attacks against Asian Americans.
Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and Brooklyn borough president who took office in January, has vowed to improve subway safety by increasing police patrols and expanding outreach to the mentally ill.
Speaking to CNN, Adams said Tuesday’s incident “was a senseless act of violence” and pledged to double the number of officers on subway patrol.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul pledged “the full resources of our state to fight this surge of crime, this insanity that is feeding our city.” The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the incident, and that assistance was offered to local officials.
Speaking on a radio interview, Adams confirmed media reports of “some form of malfunction” in the station’s security camera system, which could hamper the investigation. But how many cameras were affected was not immediately clear, he said.
However, investigators obtained cell phone video from an eyewitness that shows the suspect, a law enforcement source told CNN.
Brooklyn resident Yayha Ibrahim said he saw people running from the station, and decided to walk down into it to see what was happening.
“I saw a lady, she was shot right in her leg and she was screaming for help,” he said. Rescue workers “did a good job of coming quick and fast, and the ambulance came in and they took her”.