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James J. Lee, environmental militant, slain at Discovery building after taking hostages

By Dan Morse, Theresa Vargas and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 9:00 AM

James J. Lee divided the world into good and bad. According to his writings on a Web site he created, people were bad, especially "parasitic" babies.

Animals and bugs were good, Lee wrote. But war was bad, along with global warming, pollution and international trade.

As for civilization?

The environmental militant who was killed Wednesday at the end of a tense hostage standoff at Discovery Communications headquarters in downtown Silver Spring, termed it "filth."

Lee, 43, who once threw money to bystanders as a protest along a Silver Spring street and who believed that the world would be better off without people, was shot by police after the almost four-hour standoff. Police have not publicly named Lee, but several local and federal law enforcement sources identified him as the gunman.

Lee held a grudge against Discovery, viewing the network as a purveyor of ideas he considered environmentally destructive and staging protests outside its headquarters, according to authorities and court records. Yet he got little farther than the lobby of the vast complex while the company alerted its thousands of employees and urged them to stay in locked offices and then evacuate using a designated stairwell.

Lee, whose environmental creed was spread across the Internet in manifestoes and blog posts, was killed at 4:48 p.m. after he stalked into the building with a handgun, took three hostages and later pointed his gun at one of them, said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.

The incident, in the headquarters of the global television corporation just outside Washington, sent hundreds of employees streaming for safety into the afternoon heat without their purses, wallets and other personal items. It snarled traffic and riveted media audiences. Police said Lee had four makeshift explosive devices strapped to his body, and was wielding a gun. He entered the building about 1 p.m.

Police worked through the night searching the complex at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, trying to determine whether two backpacks and two boxes that seemed to have been carried into the building by Lee also were bombs.

Thursday morning, the building was given an all-clear, Montgomery County police said. Police spokeswoman Angela Cruz said officers were still at the complex, gathering evidence as part of their investigation.

About 1,900 people work at the Discovery building.

Cruz said Wayne Avenue remained closed to traffic Thursday morning between Ramsey Aveue and Georgia Avenue. Pedestrian access was restricted on the sidewalks on the Georgia and Wayne avenue sides of the Discovery building.

Manger said that when Lee walked into the building Wednesday afternoon, he ordered people to freeze. But many fled.

Lee held three men hostage - a security guard and two other employees - and forced them to lie face down on the floor, Manger said. The names of the hostages were not released. But The Washington Blade reported that one of the captives was a former employee Christopher Wood. He was in charge of marketing, the Blade's editor, Kevin Naff, said this morning.

"He's a great guy. Kind, generous, hardworking. Everybody in the office kind of gravitated toward him," Naff said.

Naff said he received an email from Wood this morning, which he took as a good sign that Wood is engaging with people after the ordeal.

On its blog, Discovery released a statement from hostage and employee Jim McNulty. In it, McNulty thanks police and public safety workers, as well as Discovery officials, "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," the blog post continues. "... I thank you for all for your concern during these harrowing hours."

Manger said police negotiated with Lee over several hours while a tactical team worked its way into a position where it could see and hear the gunman. "They were watching him via camera, and they were close enough to hear what he was saying and see what he was doing," Manger said.

Police took action, Manger said, because the gunman became more agitated. "At one point, the suspect . . . pulled out the handgun that he came in with and pointed it at one of the hostages," Manger said. "At that point, our tactical units moved in and shot the suspect."

There were no other injuries, he said.

Law enforcement sources said there were at least three snipers on the SWAT team stationed behind a wall inside the building when they heard what sounded like a gunshot.

"They heard a pop, and they went around," one source said. "And as they went around, the hostages were running."

Montgomery State's Attorney John McCarthy said Lee wanted his grievances aired on television.

"He wanted a production," McCarthy said. "He wanted a TV show. He wanted to go on TV and air his grievances about Discovery."

McCarthy said of the hostages: "He was going to kill them. He made threats repeatedly that he was going to kill these people and he didn't care one bit."

The shooting ended a fast-paced afternoon that saw authorities and Discovery employees evacuate the building and lock down others nearby in an orderly way that kept many others out of harm's way.

Lee, who once listed a Silver Spring homeless center as his address but who had inherited property in Hawaii that he sold for $90,000, held extreme views about the environment. According to writings on the Internet, he believed that humanity had polluted the planet and that human reproduction was the worst pollutant.

"Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what's left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture," he wrote in an 11-point Internet communique that authorities said was similar to demands he made Wednesday.

He seemed to target Discovery for its role in communicating views he disliked and saw it as a potential vehicle for promoting ideas he approved.

In 2008, he took out a full-page ad in The Express, a free newspaper owned by The Washington Post Co., bashing the channel for "causing more harm than good" and advertising a multiday protest in front of the building.

"We are running out of time to save this planet and the Discovery Channel is a big part of the problem," he wrote. "Instead of showing successful solutions, their broadcast programs seem to be doing the opposite."

Many of his notions seem to stem from his reading of author Daniel Quinn's novel "My Ishmael," about a telepathic ape who teams with a 12-year-old girl to save the planet.

On a Web site that federal law enforcement sources confirmed was created by Lee and contained his 11 points, he listed his demands of the Discovery Channel.

Among them: that the channel stop broadcasting "all programs promoting war" and help find ways to stop "ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that," as well as find "solutions for Global Warming, Automotive pollution, International Trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy."

"Saving the Planet means . . . decreasing the Human population. That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies!"

Lee argued that "nothing is more important" than saving animals: "The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels."

"The planet does not need humans."

He also demanded that the company broadcast daily shows based on Quinn's book.

On Lee's MySpace page, he lists his heroes as Quinn and James T. Kirk, a fictional protagonist in "Star Trek," the science-fiction television series.

Lee was arrested in 2008 while throwing thousands of dollars into the air outside the Discovery building, creating an atmosphere security guards believed was unsafe, according to a report in the Gazette newspaper at the time.

He said the idea was to show that ''money means nothing. Money is trash." He paid local homeless people to join his protest and hold signs. He gave the loudest people cash bonuses and organized an essay contest, in which he paid $20 for submissions and "periodically awarded an essayist $1,000," according to a police account.

An Internet video of the money-throwing scene shows cash flying through the air and people chasing it.

The judge in the case, calling the incident "foolish," sentenced Lee to six months of supervised probation, fined him $500 and warned him he could face up to two months in jail if he went within 500 feet of the building.

Lee, who represented himself in Silver Spring's District Court, was evaluated by state psychiatrists. Lee said, ''They couldn't find anything wrong with me." His probation ended Monday, officials said.

But Lee's picture was posted on a security bulletin board inside the building, and when he showed up again Wednesday, "we were able to identify him right away," a company spokesman said.

The incident began about 1 p.m., when police responded to a 911 call of shots fired in the lobby.

As police descended on Silver Spring and cordoned off streets, the downtown area came to a halt.

Patricia Kollappallil, head of communications for Animal Planet, one of Discovery's channels, said security guards and an executive helped her and other employees on the eighth floor leave by going down the back stairs.

She said she had been talking on the phone when she heard an announcement over the public-address system advising everyone to stay locked in the building. She went into the hallway, where she was told that somebody with a gun was downstairs. The evacuation was orderly, she said, and there was no panic.

"Everyone was very calm," she said. "We were all moved so quickly. Some people didn't have their phones. I grabbed my purse."

A mother whose toddler son was in the company's day-care center said she was returning from lunch at a restaurant on Colesville Road when she saw police officers taking up positions outside the building.

She and other parents were reunited with their children at a nearby McDonald's, she said in a telephone interview. She did not want to be identified because she said Discovery did not want employees talking to the media.

"I didn't say anything to him," she said of her son. "I just said, 'Hi,' and held him. He's too young to know what's going on."

morsed@washpost.com vargast@washpost.com ruanem@washpost.com

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