Life Goes on in Sunset Park Six Months After Subway Shooting

It’s been almost six months since the morning a shooter terrorized commuters at the 36th subway station in Brooklyn, injuring 19, including five students. But for the teachers and students of some of the nearby schools, the memory and emotion of that violent day still linger.

In April, Frank R. James, 63, set off smoke grenades in the station and fired 33 rounds of gunfire, according to news reports. He was arrested the next day after calling the New York City Police Department hotline CrimeStoppers and telling them his location. James is currently facing charges of committing a terrorist attack and other violence against a mass transportation system, and discharging a firearm during a violent crime.

“A lot of my friends were in the station when it happened,” said Kayla German, a 10th grader at Sunset Park High School, which is just over 200 feet away from the subway stop. She described smoke billowing out of the subway station and the wounded being treated on the sidewalk.

“Our school was surrounded by cops and people and the news,” German said, describing everyone she saw as “shocked.”

German’s school went into lockdown soon after the shooting had taken place. However, some faculty members at other nearby schools said they received limited information that morning.

Annie Tan, a former elementary school teacher in the neighborhood, described a sense of disbelief that day. Although no one in her classroom was in the station at the time of the shooting, she received texts from other teachers saying their students “ran for their lives.”

Tan’s school began to shelter in place at 11 a.m. the morning of the shooting, two and a half hours after it occurred. It was a traumatic day that required her to keep her concerns hidden while worried about what was unfolding less than a mile from her school. She recently resigned, citing the need for better school working and learning conditions, including, but not limited to the continuous fear of gun violence teachers in America face. 

“It was a good hour before we knew it was a shooting,” recalled Jeanmarie Cleary, a special education coordinator at P.S. 371. P.S. 371 is across the street from the subway station, and like Tan, it took Cleary what felt like a long time to receive information about what was unfolding. Even now, the memory of that day still upsets her. 

“For that whole hour, all I kept thinking about was all those cases where teachers died protecting children,” Cleary said.

For some nearby residents, one surprising outcome of the shooting has been an increased sense of protection. After the shooting, many residents noted the increased law enforcement presence in Sunset Park. Officers were seen patrolling around the perimeters of nearby schools on a recent afternoon during school dismissal.

There was always school and subway security, Cleary noted, “but nothing like it is now.” 

Despite the increased police presence, police data show overall crime this year has increased in the precinct that includes Sunset Park. 

“There has been a rise in crime in the community, including in the subways. Perhaps people see more of a presence and feel better about that,” said Jeremy Laufer, the Community Board Manager of District 7, which includes Sunset Park. 

He referred to the community of Sunset Park as “resilient,” expressing his confidence in the neighborhood’s ability to come together after the shooting.

But in German’s eyes, she still feels like a lot of what she and her classmates dealt with that day has gone unaddressed. There were guidance counselors available to students immediately after the shooting, but no other resources. Many of her classmates still use that same subway line and suffer from trauma. 

German also expressed concerns over students allowed entry into the school without identification, which is still an issue. She fears that the shooter, Frank James, could have gained access to her school that day. 

“They could’ve done so much more. All the kids use that train station. They didn’t go over any safety plans, they don’t check backpacks,” she said.