Frank R. James, who law enforcement officials say perpetrated the worst attack on New York’s subway system in years, was taken into custody Wednesday, more than 24 hours into an expansive search that began after at least 10 people were shot at a Brooklyn train station .
“We got him,” said Mayor Eric Adams, the first official to speak at an afternoon news conference. “We got him.”
Mr. James was arrested in the East Village, officials said, and was charged in a criminal complaint with committing a terrorist act on a mass transit system. Breon S. Peace, the US attorney for New York’s Eastern District, which brought the charges, said that Mr. James could face life in prison if convicted.
Mr. James, 62, wore a solid blue shirt and dark pants as he was led in handcuffs out of the Ninth Precinct on East 5th Street Wednesday afternoon. He is expected to appear in federal court on Thursday. A court-appointed lawyer for Mr. James did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. James was apprehended thanks to a tip that came in from a McDonald’s near 6th Street and First Avenue, officials said.
“We were able to shrink his world quickly,” said New York’s police commissioner, Keechant Sewell. “There was nowhere left for him to run.”
The capture, which unleashed a cascade of videos and tweets from people who witnessed the arrest or said they helped identify Mr. James, ended a manhunt that began at rush hour Tuesday morning, after a shooting in the Sunset Park subway station left at least 23 people injured.
Officials said Mr. James, wearing a construction worker’s helmet and vest and a gas mask, threw two smoke grenades onto the floor of an N train as it approached the station and unleashed a barrage of gunfire about 8:30 am Tuesday.
After the attack, officials said, Mr. James left the N train and boarded a local R train across the platform, where several of his victims had also fled. He left the subway at the next stop, 25th Street, and evaded law enforcement for over a day.
The police discovered an array of belongings on the train, including a Glock 9-millimeter handgun, three ammunition magazines, a credit card with Mr. James’s name on it and a key to a U-Haul van.
That vehicle was found abandoned on a street in the Gravesend neighborhood late Tuesday afternoon, about five miles from the 36th Street station in Sunset Park, where the shooting had taken place. It was two blocks from an N-train subway stop.
According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday in federal court, Mr. James reserved and prepaid for the van April 6, and picked it up in Philadelphia on April 11. Around 4:11 am on Wednesday, surveillance cameras captured it crossing the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.
At 6:12 am, according to the complaint, a surveillance camera at West 7th Street and Kings Highway in Brooklyn recorded somebody leaving the van — parked where it was found — wearing a yellow hard hat and an orange working jacket, carrying a backpack and dragging a rolling bag.
The person matched the description provided by at least one witness to the attack.
The vast manhunt for Mr. James, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, included a broad review of security cameras throughout the subway system; a more than 17-block wide ground canvass in Sunset Park for stores’ surveillance footage; and a search for information on the gun, whose serial number was found in federal records that showed Mr. James had purchased it in 2011.
The investigation was complicated by the malfunctioning of at least one security camera in the station where the shooting took place. One senior law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said that it appeared none of the security cameras were in full operation.
James Essig, the Police Department’s chief of detectives, said that detectives saw Mr. James on video entering the subway system at the Kings Highway station near where the van was parked. Footage showed Mr. James exiting the system after the shooting at the 25th Street station, one stop away from the shooting scene, Chief Essig said.
He was next spotted entering the 7th Avenue subway stop in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, more than a mile away, around 9:15 am on Tuesday, Chief Essig said. At the time, the investigators were just beginning to track him.
Investigators also seized a stun gun and an empty magazine for a Glock handgun like the one used in the shooting from an apartment Mr. James rented in Philadelphia, according to the complaint.
Authorities also searched a storage facility in Philadelphia that Mr. James visited the evening before the attack, the complaint said. They found ammunition there for an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a 9 mm pistol.
Mr. James had been arrested many times, officials said, including nine collars in New York, mostly for misdemeanors, and three in New Jersey.
While investigators identified no clear motive for the attack, Mr. James’ postings on social media — including combative videos in recent days on YouTube — came under scrutiny and featured in the complaint.
In one video quoted in the complaint, Mr. James addressed Mr. Adams with grievances about the city subway system: “What are you doing, brother? What’s happening with this homeless situation?” He added that every car he boarded was full of homeless people, saying, “It was so bad, I couldn’t even stand.”
Michael Gold and Andy Newman contributed reporting.