By Pervaiz Shallwani, Shimon Prokupecz, Laura Ly, Artemis Moshtaghian and Travis Caldwell
NEW YORK – An intensive hunt, involving local and national law enforcement agencies, is underway for the man who set off smoke grenades and fired a handgun on a crowded New York City subway train, wounding passengers and setting off a panicked scramble during the Tuesday morning rush hour.
“The FBI’s and NYPD’s joint-terrorism task force is made up of over 50 agencies and we are fully engaged on this investigation. It’s still very much in its early stages. Our focus right now — our thoughts and prayers are with the victims,” Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI New York Field Office, said Tuesday.
Investigators have named a “person of interest” they believe rented a U-Haul van that has been connected to the shooting at the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.
Frank James, 62, has not been named as a suspect. James has addresses in Wisconsin as well as Philadelphia, where the U-Haul was rented, NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig said.
“The keys to that U-Haul van was found in the subway in our shooter’s possessions,” Essig said. “We don’t know right now if Mr. James has any connection to the subway. That’s still under investigation.”
The U-Haul was recovered near the station and has been cleared by the NYPD’s bomb squad, police said. The van will be transported to a forensic location where federal and local authorities can go through the vehicle in a controlled environment, a senior law enforcement officials said.
The gunman fired at least 33 times and struck 10 people, according to Essig. Overall, 29 people were hospitalized in connection with the shooting with injuries that included gunshot wounds, smoke inhalation or from falling while trying to escape, officials said.
None of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said.
“We know this incident is of grave concern to New Yorkers,” Sewell said. “We cannot lose sight of victims in this city. We will use every resource we can to bring those to justice who continue to prey on the citizens of New York.”
The motive of the shooting is not yet known. The attack is not being investigated as an act of terrorism but authorities have not ruled out anything, Sewell said, adding the victims have a variety of backgrounds.
A $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect has been offered, according to a statement from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 each offered $12,500 in reward money and the New York City Police Foundation offered an additional $25,000.
“Riders need to feel safe. My members need to feel safe. We don’t just dip in and out of the system. We spend entire shifts down there every day and night. This guy has to be apprehended,” said TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano.
Service via the D, N and R subway lines has been restored to the 36th Street subway station and is “running with delays,” the MTA said early Wednesday. Commuters were riding a Manhattan-bound N train as it neared the station when the shooting started.