Frank James, 63, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty today to 10 counts of committing a terrorist attack or other violence against a mass transportation vehicle – one count for each gunshot victim – and one count of discharging a firearm in furtherance of his attack.
The charges relate to the defendant’s April 12, 2022, mass shooting on the New York City subway in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
According to court documents, during rush hour on the morning of April 12, 2022, James used a Glock 17 pistol he legally purchased in Ohio to conduct a mass shooting on an N subway train in Brooklyn, New York. As part of his attack, James – disguised in an orange reflective jacket and yellow hard hat to look like a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) employee – set off a smoke-emitting device in a subway car before opening fire on his captive victims. The smoke-emitting device caused panicked passengers to scramble to one end of the subway car, allowing James to more easily shoot at his victims. In total, 10 victims were struck by the defendant’s bullets. Even more passengers suffered from smoke inhalation and other mental and physical injuries due to the defendant’s attack.
“As described in court filings, the defendant set off a smoke bomb in a New York City subway car and then fired a handgun more than 30 times, striking ten innocent passengers,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that the Justice Department will work relentlessly to hold accountable those who engage in mass violence and terrorize our communities.”
The investigation reflects that the attack was the culmination of substantial planning. Beginning as early as 2017, James began purchasing items he could use in an attack, including smoke grenades, ammunition, weapons, and his disguise. In the months leading up to his attack, James conducted web searches for “MTA,” “New York,” “transit,” “stops on the N train,” and “311 kings highway brooklyn ny,” which is near where James parked his rented U-Haul van before entering the subway. The defendant also recorded and posted videos online foreshadowing his plans, including stating that “if you hear the name Frank James on the news, if something happens to a Frank James that’s sixty-something years old, chances are that’s me.”
“On the morning of April 12, 2022, Frank James cold-bloodedly shot innocent New Yorkers traveling on the subway in Brooklyn and brought terror to our great city. James’s crimes of violence have been met with swift justice,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “James’s admission of guilt to all eleven counts of the superseding indictment acknowledges the terror and pain he caused. This guilty plea is an important step towards holding James fully accountable and helping the victims of the defendant’s violence and our great city heal.”
Following James’s attack, law enforcement officers searched James’s apartment and storage unit and uncovered a stockpile of weapons, including, among other items, 9mm ammunition; a threaded 9mm pistol barrel, which allows for a silencer or suppresser to be attached; .223 caliber ammunition, which is used with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle; a taser; a high-capacity rifle magazine; and a blue smoke cannister.
“Frank James, as he admitted today, deliberately planned and carried out an attack of terror on everyday New Yorkers. The FBI’s JTTF and our law enforcement partners remain ever vigilant in our efforts to protect our city, and we will ensure those willing to commit acts of terror face the consequences of their actions,” said Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI New York Field Office.
James faces up to life in prison on each of the 11 counts. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
“Today’s guilty plea is a distinct admission of the terror Mr. James inflicted on New Yorkers last April in Brooklyn, and he is being held accountable for his reprehensible actions that morning,” said Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell of New York City Police Department (NYPD). “Our nation’s largest transit system is the lifeblood of New York City. And its subway riders expect and deserve the brisk, coordinated, and meticulous work exhibited by everyone involved in bringing this terrible incident to a successful close. For their unwavering dedication to all the people we serve, I thank and commend the NYPD patrol officers who arrested Mr. James on the run, as well as each of the detectives and agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force who methodically shrunk his world until he had nowhere else to turn. Lastly, I also want to thank the public for their vigilance and their help in taking this violent criminal off of our streets.”
The FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which principally consists of agents from the FBI and detectives from the NYPD are investigating the case, according to the Department of Justice. MTA provided valuable assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ian C. Richardson, Sara K. Winik, and Ellen H. Sise for the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance provided by Paralegal Specialist Magdalena St. Surin and Trial Attorney David Cora of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.