A MetroCard purchased with a credit card linked to suspected Brooklyn subway shooter Frank R. James was swiped at a Brooklyn subway station Tuesday night, hours after the attack, two law enforcement sources said Wednesday.
Investigators believe James may still have been riding the subways following the rush-hour shooting at the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, the sources said. MetroCard data isn't real-time, though, and his travel direction wasn't clear, they added.
The developments come before an all-out manhunt ended Wednesday for the gunman who opened fire Tuesday on a Brooklyn subway with the suspect taken into custody in Manhattan. The violence was an apparently premeditated attack that injured at least 23 people, 10 of them by gunfire and some of them children, and once again interrupted New York City's rocky journey to post-pandemic normalcy.
Investigators were laser-focused on a man who rented a U-Haul van that may have been linked to the rush-hour violence. They labeled James a suspect on Wednesday after calling him a person of interest the day before, saying they weren't sure he was responsible for the shooting. It's not clear what prompted the change.
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
Authorities have been examining social media videos in which the 62-year-old James decried the United States as a racist place awash in violence and sometimes railed against the city’s mayor, Eric Adams.
“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. There’s nothing going to stop that,” James said in one video.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell called the posts “concerning" and officials tightened security for Adams as investigators turn their attention to the U-Haul van.
Cops believe the van found parked on Kings Highway in Gravesend Tuesday afternoon is linked to the shootings. It had a table, chairs and memory foam pillows inside, senior law enforcement sources said. The key and the credit card used to rent the van were both found at the Sunset Park station. That's what yielded James' name.
They say his physical description could match that of the subway shooter, who was said to be a Black man about 5 feet 5 inches tall and 170 pounds. The shooter was wearing a gas mask, green construction vest and construction helmet when he tossed two smoke canisters on the floor of a northbound N car and opened fire.
Pictures: Multiple People Hurt in Brooklyn Subway Shooting
While the car filled with smoke, he fired at least 33 times, according to NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig, striking 10 people. It's not clear how the shooter fled the scene. Cops were looking into reports he may have jumped onto the subway tracks and escaped through the tunnels, but all searches for him have come up empty.
James has ties to Philadelphia and Wisconsin as well as New York, according to police. Senior law enforcement officials say he has a past criminal record in New Jersey but none of the crimes are on par with Tuesday's attack.
As investigators search for James, they continue to meticulously comb through evidence and witness interviews for insight into a possible motive.
One rider's video, shot through a closed door between subway cars, shows a person in a hooded sweatshirt raising an arm and pointing at something as five bangs sound. In another video, smoke and people pour out of a subway car, some limping.
Greenish smoke spewed from the subway doors when the Manhattan-bound train stopped at the platform, according to officials. Throngs of panicked people were seen running, bleeding — in total, 23 were hurt, police said, most of them in the chaos.
“Someone call 911!” a person could be heard shouting.
Five of the gunshot victims were critically injured, with details on the nature of their wounds not immediately clear. No fatalities were reported.
One source close to the investigation says the gunman's weapon may have jammed, potentially preventing further tragedy.
The gun was recovered at the scene, as was a bag with smoke canisters and fireworks, along with a hatchet, a spray bottle of gasoline and a fuse — lending further credence to the theory of a premeditated attack on New York City transit riders.
Three extended magazines of ammunition were also recovered at the scene: one still in the handgun, one in a backpack and one under his subway seat. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed an urgent trace to identify the gun’s manufacturer, seller and initial owner. That came back to James.
An MTA surveillance camera in the station wasn't working at the time of the shooting, three sources say. It's not clear why, but officials say there were “a lot of different options” from cameras elsewhere on the subway line to get a glimpse of the shooter.
More than a dozen victims who weren't hit by gunfire were injured in the crowd response to the chaos, Essig said, with injuries including smoke inhalation, panic attacks and falling. Some of the wounded were in the same train car as the suspect, while others were on the platform, authorities said.
All described a terrifying scene.
"You start seeing faces against the glass, and it's people, several women, banging against the glass, screaming," said Kenneth Foote-Smith, who was in the next subway car over. "
"I did see a gentleman who was shot in lower stomach, laying out the ground, being treated by three or four people — bystanders, not EMS," he added. "I wasn’t the one who was injured or shot. Those are the people I think about, who I can’t stop thinking about. The people I couldn’t help."
The injured were taken to at least three city hospitals, including NYU Langone, Maimonides Medical Center, NYP-Brooklyn Methodist and Kings County Hospital.
The youngest victims in the shooting, four children between 12 and 16 years old, were taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where they were visited by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the evening.
MAP: Here's Where the Subway Shooting Happened
Houari Benkada was one of the gunshot victims, telling CNN in an interview that she actually sat next to the shooter before smoke filled the car, sending people running. He said he was trying to shield a pregnant woman when he was hit.
"She said 'I'm pregnant with a baby,' I hugged her, then the bum rush continued, and that's when I got shot in the back of my knee," the 27-year-old said.
All of the victims are expected to survive. Trying to reach a loved one? Here's what to do.
The New York City Unified Victim Identification System (UVIS) was activated in response to the NYPD activity located near 36th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.
If you are concerned about the welfare of someone who may have been affected by the event and are unable to contact them, please call 311. From outside of NYC, you may call 212-639-9675.
Police are asking for tips from the public, videos in particular, that could help them track down the suspect, as well as the person of interest, James. Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.
A reward of $50,000 from police, the MTA and Transport Workers Union is being offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment of the shooter.