"I Have a Device That If I Drop It, I'll Explode"

Thursday, Sep 2, 2010  |  Updated 8:44 PM EDT
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<a title=Montgomery County Police give a play-by-play on what went down inside the Discovery Channel hostage standoff." />

Montgomery County Police give a play-by-play on what went down inside the Discovery Channel hostage standoff.

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Hugs and Tears Among Discovery Employees

It was an emotional return to work for Discovery Communications employees, back on the job a day after a harrowing hostage situation in their building's lobby.

Discovery Barricade Suspect Tells NBC He's Got Bombs

An NBC News producer spoke to the Discovery standoff suspect during the incident.
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Upon learning that a gunman had taken hostages Wednesday afternoon at the Discovery Corporation Building in Silver Spring, Md.,  NBC News producers called a general Discovery phone number and were connected to a man identifying himself as the suspect.

Producer Rob Rivas spoke with the man for about 10 minutes until he apparently ended the call. Hours later, the man holding three hostages in the lobby of the building was shot dead after police stormed the building.

NBC News correspondent Pete Williams said a law enforcement official confirmed the name of the suspect: James Jay Lee.  He had a history of protest against the Discovery Channel, Williams reported. In March 2008, the 43-year-old man was convicted of disorderly conduct, given six months of supervised probation, and fined $500.  For more on Lee, click here.

While Rivas was talking to the person on the phone, other NBC News staff informed authorities. The man told Rivas that no one had been shot, at which point Rivas asked him if he had a gun.

"I have a gun and I have a bomb," the man told Rivas. "I have several bombs strapped to my body ready to go off. I have a device that if I drop it, if i drop it, I'll ******* explode."

He also told the producer he spent three weeks or a month researching and experimenting to prepare the bombs. He said he was angry at the Discovery Channel for not broadcasting the environmental stories he wanted to see.

"NBC News immediately informed Montgomery County authorities of details of that conversation, but withheld public release of those details while the incident was ongoing," NBC News said in a statement released after the standoff.

Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said officers shot the gunman at about 4:50 p.m. -- almost four hours after the ordeal began -- because law enforcement "believed the hostages were in danger" after hours of negotiations during which the suspect threatened to kill the hostages and himself.

"Our tactical officers were able to get into position where they were very close to him," Manger said. "They were watching him via camera, and they were close enough to hear what he was saying and see what he was doing on a camera."

When that team heard a pop that could have been a gun going off or an attempt to detonate a device, they acted and took down the suspect, Manger said. When police made their move, the hostages fled.

Lee's body was taken out of the building Thursday morning, police said. Doctors have completed an autopsy, Maryland's chief medical examiner said, but there was no comment on the findings, the Associated Press reported.

On Thursday, local police, federal agents and other law enforcement searched a home in Wheaton where Lee reportedly had rented a room. They found four more explosive devices that were removed from the residence and safely detonated. Authorities also are looking into the possibility the suspect used a vehicle Wednesday and want to search it if it exists.

Authorities also are investigating whether the suspect was asking alone, though Manger said, "There is no indication he acted anything but alone." 

The suspect's gun was a starter pistol, police said. A second starter pistol also was found at the scene. The four devices he took into the building -- two propane cylinders and two pipe bombs --were safely detonated Wednesday. One, at least, could have been lethal. It is unclear if the devices were attached to his body.

Discovery Communications Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs David Leavy said police and security handled themselves with complete professionalism. He said the building's emergency evacuation plan was executed flawlessly. Evacuated employees said they were directed to an exit on the Georgia Avenue side of the building.

The building remained a crime scene overnight as police looked for other possible explosives. Montgomery County Police said four packages found inside the building were detonated overnight. At least one contained a device with liquid explosives.

They also found what appeared to be propane cylinders containing shotgun pellets and two backpacks with ski masks and guns.

The building reopened for employees at about 10 a.m. Thursday. As they entered they were greeted with smiles by security and other staff and some hugged security workers. Chris Brown of TLC, who returned for his keys, said he was wearing the same clothes he wore to work the day before because he was unable to go home.

Executives addressed employees at 11 a.m.  Counselors were made available. Leavy said it was an emotional scene as employees entered the building. Employees were given liberal leave Thursday afternoon, and the offices will be closed Friday, not to reopen until Tuesday.

Police said an "Asian male" entered One Discovery Place at about 1 p.m. Wednesday and had "some sort of explosive device on him."  Manger said the gunman was wearing "metallic canister devices." 

Several people ran from the lobby, but the suspect took three hostages -- a security guard and two other men, one identified as Discovery employee Jim McNulty, a former employee at NBC4.  The Washington Blade said one of its former marketing managers, Christopher Wood, was also held hostage.

Police said the gunman made demands and that negotiators spoke with him for several hours.

"His concerns are with the Discovery Corporation right now," Montgomery County Police spokesman Paul Starks said during the negotiations.

McNulty issued the following statement after the incident:

"First of all, I want to thank the Montgomery County Police and all the agencies that responded today for helping to ensure the safety of all my colleagues at Discovery Communications and for helping to get me and my fellow hostages out safely.

"I want to thank my family, friends and coworkers for their thoughts and prayers during this situation. And I especially want to thank Discovery for their support.

"At this time, because the criminal investigation is still ongoing, I will have no further comments regarding the events of this afternoon.

"But I thank you all for your concern during these harrowing hours."

Employees at One Discovery Place were alerted and either found shelter or were evacuated from the building. Police said the building normally houses about 1,900 employees.

"There's great teamwork in this county," Manger said Thursday afternoon. "In fact, there's great teamwork in this region."

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Bowers noted that recently authorities had trained for just such an emergency.


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