NEW YORK — The man accused of shooting 10 people aboard a Brooklyn subway train earlier this week appeared in court Thursday and was ordered held without bail.
Authorities say James, a peripatetic 62-year-old who left behind a trail of arrests and angry videos online, traveled to New York early Tuesday morning, boarded a subway train and, prosecutors wrote in a court filing, carried out “a premeditated violent attack on unsuspecting commuters trapped underground with their assailant in a subway car.”
James spoke just once during the hearing, acknowledging he had seen the criminal complaint and that federal public defenders had been appointed to represent him. Afterward, his attorney warned against “a rush to judgment,” saying initial reports in the media and from police “are often inaccurate.”
Law enforcement officials said James set off smoke grenades aboard an N train traveling in Brooklyn during the Tuesday morning commute, fired nearly three dozen rounds and then fled, setting off a manhunt that lasted 29 hours until he was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan.
Even as more details emerged Thursday about the sweeping search that ended with his arrest, significant questions remain. Authorities have not yet said where they believe James went during the manhunt. Police are also still investigating what motivated the attack.
The public picture that has emerged of James so far came largely from videos he apparently posted online, in which he made bigoted statements, delved into conspiracy theories and spoke ominously about committing violence.
In a court filing on Thursday arguing to keep James detained, prosecutors highlighted his YouTube videos to argue that he posed a risk to others, writing that he had posted one teaching how to make a Molotov cocktail and another “in which he stated a desire to kill and shoot people.”
The prosecutors also said investigators searching his storage unit and apartment found ammunition and targets. And they pointed to his criminal record, saying that James had been “arrested nearly a dozen times in at least two states,” mostly for low-level crimes
“Numerous passengers could have been killed,” they wrote of the subway attack, saying James posed a danger due to “the calculated attack on one of the busiest mass transportation systems in the world during peak commuting hours.”
During his brief appearance in a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, his defense attorneys did not contest his detention, though they asked that James receive psychiatric care and magnesium tablets for leg cramps.
A defense attorney for James briefly addressed reporters after the hearing, saying that James was entitled to a fair trial. She also said James himself had called CrimeStoppers and “told them where he was.”
Law enforcement officials said the attack unfolded shortly before 8:30 a.m. as the subway train approached the 36th Street Station in Brooklyn. The attacker, police said, fired 33 rounds from a Glock 9mm handgun and hit 10 people, who all survived.
Whether a shooting is fatal or not depends on a host of factors, including the aim, the type of firearm and weight of the bullet, and whether the bullet pierces a vital artery, said Cedric Dark, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine and an emergency-room doctor.
But, Dark added, the shooting could leave lasting scars. People who were shot might carry bullets in their bodies for the rest of their lives, he said. On top of their physical wounds, those who were shot could suffer psychological anguish. “It’s not just the people who die,” he said. “It’s also the people who live with it.”
Investigators believe his handgun jammed as he was shooting, which prevented him from firing additional rounds and possibly saved lives, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the events who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Ballistics tests are underway to confirm the sequence of events.
After the shooting, nearly 30 people were taken to area hospitals, while the attacker disappeared within the nation’s largest city for more than a day. The desperate search to find the attacker began with a critical discovery, authorities said, along with an early setback.
Investigators found a pair of bags at the scene with a trove of items that helped them zero in on James, including a debit card with his name, a gun he legally purchased in Ohio in 2011 and a key to a U-Haul that James rented in Philadelphia a day earlier and drove to Brooklyn, law enforcement officials said.
Police said they believe the attacker slipped away on another train that pulled into the 36th Street Station. But tracking James in his early movements was hindered by problems with security cameras at the scene of the crime.
In a statement Thursday, New York Police Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said that cameras were not working “at three stations due to a technical issue.” But he added that this did not significantly hinder the investigation. “Statements that the lack of cameras on the station delayed the manhunt by many hours are unfair and misleading,” he said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the New York subway system, had only recently finished installing cameras at each of its 472 stations. To skirt the high cost of buying and installing cameras that connect to its security system, officials at the cash-strapped agency opted mostly for cheaper models that require only a power source and keep footage stored on memory cards.
But closed circuit television systems require constant maintenance and upgrades. MTA officials said the cameras in the 36th Street station were operable but a node in a server room malfunctioned, limiting access investigators had to footage of the attacker.
Surveillance in subway systems vary, though most rail transit stations are outfitted with cameras, according to some of the larger systems of the nation. Despite the missing footage, the bounty of items found at the scene proved critical for investigators, officials said.
“His plan went to hell in a hand basket when he left all the information at the scene, so he was very easily identified,” said Edward McMahon, commander of the New York New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force, a group that includes the U.S. Marshals and other state, federal and local agencies.
Between the subway shooting and arrest of James the next day, McMahon said law enforcement officials, including the Marshals, who were brought in to aid in the search after James was identified, launched an “all hands on deck” effort.
Police “were looking to get this guy off the street” before he “brought any more carnage to the city,” James Essig, chief of detectives for the New York police, said Wednesday. The FBI set up a command post. Investigators monitored addresses or connections of James throughout the country, he said, and chased down leads as they came in.
“We have a lot of old-fashioned police work, technology and investigative resources, to include the full gamut of going to all the addresses and connections like that,” McMahon said.
On Tuesday evening, officials made the decision to release the name and photo of James to the public. By that time, officials said, investigators had scoured his social media and other records, getting clear images of him that would make him easily identifiable to passersby or police.
The decision to release a name and photo is not an easy one, said Timothy Gallagher, a former special agent in charge of the FBI Newark office who now works in private practice at the consulting firm Kroll. He helped lead the 2016 effort to find the man accused of setting off bombs in Manhattan and Seaside Park in New Jersey. That attacker was convicted in federal court in 2017.
In that bombing case, Gallagher said officials only decided to publicly identify a suspect after they tried to raid his house and he was not there, so they figured he might already be aware of law enforcement interest. While alerting the public instantly puts millions of people on the lookout for a suspect in New York City and across the country, it is not without risk, Gallagher said, because an attacker could “feel cornered” and then “lash out.”
It remains unclear how James evaded law enforcement officials for more than a day, but Gallagher noted that the sheer scale of the city could have aided any efforts. “New York City is an awfully big place, both in land, as well as people. If you’re hiding among 8 million people, there is also cover there as well,” he said.
McMahon said for the Marshals, who track violent fugitives on a daily basis, bringing someone in within 30 hours is a “swift apprehension.”
Officials familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed what an attorney for James told the public, which is that James himself called police himself to report his location Wednesday afternoon.
McMahon said Thursday that a passerby had also flagged James to police, apparently having recognized James from law enforcement efforts to publicize his face. McMahon said it was also possible the publicity could have influenced James to make the decision to call authorities.
“It must be out of desperation, and again, we know, that his mental stability is not there, and while it was horrific, the plot, it was a failure on all fronts,” McMahon said. “He had nowhere to go.”
Berman and Zapotosky reported from Washington. Justin George in Washington contributed to this report.