SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Police shot and killed a man upset with the Discovery Channel network’s programming who took two employees and a security officer hostage at the company’s headquarters Wednesday, officials said. All three hostages escaped safely.
Police spent several hours negotiating with the gunman, who was upset about the network’s programming, after he burst into the suburban Washington building about 1 p.m. waving a handgun and with canisters strapped to his body.
Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said one explosive device detonated on the gunman’s body when they shot him, and they were working to determine whether two boxes and two backpacks he also had with him were explosives. The 1,900 people who work in the building were able to get out safely.
Manger said officers were monitoring Lee on building security cameras and tactical officers moved in when they saw him pull out the handgun and point it at one of the hostages.
A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said authorities had identified James J. Lee as the likely suspect.
A different official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said Lee previously protested outside the building, where he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in February 2008, according to court records.
Police reports indicate he paid homeless people to join his protest and carry signs outside the building. He gave one individual $1,000 for what he considered a prize winning essay.
At one point, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered around Lee, 43, who referred to money as “just trash” and began throwing fistfuls of it into the air.
At the trial, The Gazette of Montgomery County reported, he said he began working to save the planet after being laid off from his job in San Diego. He said he was inspired by “Ishmael,” a novel by environmentalist Daniel Quinn and by former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”
A lengthy posting which could be seen Wednesday on a website registered to Lee expressed anger against the Discovery Channel and said it promoted overpopulation.
He said it and its affiliates should stop “encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants.” Instead, he said, the network should air “programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility.”
“NO MORE BABIES! Population growth is a real crisis,” he wrote.
He also railed against “programs promoting War” and said solutions should be found for global warming and automotive and factory pollution.
“I want Discovery Communications to broadcast on their channels to the world their new program lineup and I want proof they are doing so,” he wrote. “I want the new shows started by asking the public for inventive solution ideas to save the planet and the remaining wildlife on it.”
Discovery Communications Inc. operates cable and satellite networks in the U.S., including The Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Discovery shows include “Cash Cab” and “Man vs. Wild,” and TLC airs “American Chopper” and “Kate Plus Eight.”
Animal Planet also airs the controversial series “Whale Wars,” about attempts by environmentalists to disrupt the Japanese whaling industry.
After Lee’s arrest, a magistrate ordered a doctor’s evaluation, but court records do not immediately indicate the result. Lee was convicted by a jury and served two weeks in jail. He was also ordered to stay 500 feet away from Discovery headquarters.
Adam Dolan, a sales director in Discovery’s education division, told The Associated Press by phone that he was heading to lunch with a co-worker when he heard there was a situation in the building.
He was told to go back up to the top floor, lock the door and turn off the lights. Eventually the workers were herded down a stairwell and told to go home.
“Everyone was very scared, but at the same time … I think people were calm and collected and responded as one would expect in this situation,” said Dolan, 28.
When he got to the bottom floor, he saw shattered glass near the company’s daycare and suspected it was broken to get the children out. He later got an e-mail that all the children were safe and had been taken to a McDonald’s.
Dolan said the company has unarmed security guards who won’t let anyone into the building without a badge.
Melissa Shepard, 32, of Peterborough, N.H., a consultant who works there during the week, said she was on the third floor in a large room with several other workers when someone announced over a loudspeaker that there was a situation in the lobby and people should stay at their desks.
After some time, they were told to move to the other end of the building. She said she was among a dozen workers who huddled into an office, shut the door and turned off the lights.
Then she said someone knocked on the door and told them to leave the building. She said there was some confusion as they were told to go to an upper floor or down the stairs.
“Finally, I screamed, ‘tell us where we need to go…I just want to get out of there,'” she said. “I was shaking…I was like what do we do what do we do?'”
Authorities descended on the area, and people were being kept away from the main drag of the downtown area where the building is located amid restaurants and shops. Traffic was jammed.