The NYPD announced that the five tipsters who helped police capture the alleged Brooklyn subway shooter will be eligible to split the $50,000 reward that was offered during the 30-hour manhunt for the suspect.
The police department partnered with the MTA and the Transport Workers Union Local 100 to offer the reward for critical information that would lead to an arrest in the hours after the attack at the Sunset Park subway station that left 10 people shot and more than a dozen others injured. The NYPD offered $25,000, which the MTA and TWU offered $12,500 each.
"The public is who we serve, but they are also often our best partner," said NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell. “We appreciate all of those who responded to our call for information to locate this suspect, including all of those whose tips did not pan out. We urged the public to join us in this effort to find this suspect and New Yorkers stepped up."
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The 62-year-old suspect, Frank James, allegedly disguised himself during the attack and tossed the costume during the chaos that followed in order to flee the subway station undetected, prosecutors alleged in his first court appearance Thursday.
He traveled the trains after the shooting with a second MetroCard — different from the one he used just before the Brooklyn attack — that investigators didn't know he had, according to a senior law enforcement official. That second card is the reason police lost track of his movements until his arrest.
James also had a second phone, in addition to one recovered at the crime scene, and authorities on were working to get into the device. Investigators said they did not previously know about the second phone, otherwise they would have tried to use its signal to track him.
It wasn't until about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday that James was finally brought into custody, when he was picked up by police near St. Marks Place and First Avenue in the East Village. That was after police received multiple Crime Stoppers tips — including one from the suspect himself, who said over the phone "This is Frank. You guys are looking for me ... my phone is about to die," according to sources.
Even if he didn't, a senior law enforcement official said police were already working off a Twitter report of a sighting in the Lower East Side, and were swarming the area looking for him. A law enforcement official said Friday that investigators also used facial recognition technology to help identify the suspect, in addition to matching the gun to him.
James had told police he was at a McDonald's, but when officers arrived, he was no longer there, so they drove around and eventually spotted him on a street corner. He didn't resist arrest.
Three sources familiar with the arrest said one of the NYPD officers approached and asked the man if he was James. He responded saying yes, and that he had been waiting for police to find him all day, according to the sources.
Aside from tips that came in via Twitter that police used to track down James, it was as police were zeroing in on him in the East Village that they received help from New Yorkers such as Zack Tahhan and Lee Vasu, who spotted the suspect in the street and flagged down officers.
"I got them out of there, that was my first instinct. I was worried, I didn’t want to take my phone out of my pocket, the guy had a duffle bag," Vasu told NBC New York. "I kept my eye on him the whole time so he wouldn’t escape. When he was right near us, he was six or seven feet from me, he was mumbling to himself. He didn’t seem right … he said eff the FBI, he was arguing with himself."
"People were walking behind him, I said, 'Guys, stay away from him, trust me — this is the guy!' I see the police walking from over there, I said 'This is the guy, catch him, catch him!' Thank god, we catch him," said Tahhan, who said he helped flag down officers.
It was not clear which five people who provided tips to the NYPD would be getting equal shares of the $50,000 reward, or if Vasu or Tahhan were among them, as the Crime Stoppers process provides anonymity. Police said that reward money is only issued upon the arrest and indictment of an individual, both of which James has already gone through.
"Thanks to the help of these five good Samaritans, the NYPD was able to do its job and get a dangerous suspect off the streets just hours after his picture was released,” said NYC Mayor Eric Adams. “The bravery of these five individuals are what truly make New York City the greatest city in the world."
MTA Chair Janno Lieber — who has faced questions regarding why cameras in the subway station were not functioning properly, which may have caused the search period to take longer — said that the tipsters helped "put way the maniac accused of a horrific attack on our city."
The reward announcement comes a day after the man whose alleged attack triggered the worst commute disruption the city has seen in 20 years, according to federal prosecutors, was held without bail after appearing before a judge. James wore a beige prison uniform as he nodded when the judge asked him if he understood the federal charge against him. He waived his rights to a preliminary hearing, and did not speak beyond that.
He was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On Friday, investigators said that he was in isolation at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for his protection, and was put on suicide watch as a precaution.
Read the full detention memo below.
Source said police now know that the suspect was in new York City on March 29 and April 1, and are looking to determine whether he spoke to anyone regarding any alleged plan to attack at that time.
"The defendant’s attack was entirely premeditated. The day before the shooting,
the defendant picked up a U-Haul in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which he drove over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and into Brooklyn in the early morning hours of April 12," prosecutors said in the detention memo. "The defendant came to Brooklyn prepared with all of the weapons and tools he needed to carry out the mass attack."
Those items, according to court papers, included a Glock 17 pistol bought by the suspect, a container with gasoline, a torch and fireworks with explosive powder. All were later found on the platform at the 36th Street and Fourth Avenue subway station.
Law enforcement officers recovered a stockpile of weapons and ammunition from other locations allegedly controlled by James, prosecutors said. They found an empty magazine for a Glock handgun, a taser, a high-capacity rifle magazine, and a blue smoke canister in the apartment where he stayed before traveling to Brooklyn. They also found a propane tank, pillow and chair in the U-Haul linked to the scene. The propane was being used with a heater, according to a senior law enforcement official.
From James' storage unit, investigators recovered 9mm ammunition, a threaded 9mm pistol barrel that allows for a silencer or suppresser to be attached, targets, and .223 caliber ammunition, used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
As for the gun he had on the subway to allegedly carry out the attack, investigators said he had three magazines that held 30 rounds each — up to 90 bullets in all. Some officials also said they think one smoke grenade might have accidentally been set off prematurely on that train, prompting James to allegedly begin shooting.
While prosecutors described James in court papers as a calculating shooter who fired "in cold blood at terrified passengers who had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide," his defense cautioned against a rush to judgment, as attorney Mia Eisner-Grynberg noted he was the one to call Crime Stoppers and report his own location.
James' lawyers agreed Thursday to his being jailed, but said they could seek bail later. No follow-up court date was immediately set.