Hostages describe standoff at Discovery building

Jim McNulty and Chris Wood, two Discovery Channel employees held hostage by a gunman at the company's headquarters in Silver Spring, describe the moment they decided to run from gunman James J. Lee.
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010

Two of the hostages held by an explosives-laden environmental militant used hand signals with each other before their break from a Silver Spring building, and a charging SWAT officer had to hold his fire to avoid shooting one of them, according to new details that emerged Thursday about the four-hour standoff.

Two of the three hostages described the ordeal during a 20-minute segment on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

One of the hostages, Jim McNulty, said the suspect belligerently asked him why he had "filthy" kids at home, consistent with the man's Internet rants about overpopulation. Another hostage, Chris Wood, said that while lying on the marble floor in the lobby of the Discovery Communications headquarters, he was able to get to his mobile phone and send an e-mail while keeping an eye on the gunman.

"I had an e-mail from my boss," Wood said. "And I responded. I said, 'I am a hostage with Jim McNulty and the guard in the lobby.' I sent that off."

In the frantic, final seconds of the standoff, a hostage ran into an officer's line of fire, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said in an interview with The Washington Post.

"One of my SWAT guys said, 'I saw [one of the hostages] come into my view and so I held up my shot,' " Manger said.

Manger has said his officers fired multiple times, killing James J. Lee in the lobby. McNulty said he heard them do it.

"You hear the 'pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,' " he said during the TV talk show. "The SWAT had moved in."

McNulty and Wood described how they were going through a typical day shortly before 1 p.m. when they returned to the Discovery building, in a downtown section of Silver Spring that bustles with lunchtime pedestrians.

"I had actually been working off site all day," McNulty said. "I was at an edit, and was coming in for a 1 o'clock meeting, and just happened to be walking into the lobby at Discovery.

"And I walked through the doors and I see a man holding a gun to the guard behind the desk and I started thinking, 'Are we doing a production here? Why would someone be showing a gun?' Until the man points it at me and says, 'On the ground. On the ground.' And you're like, 'Oh, okay,' and my hands go up and I let go of my wheelie bag and took a few steps into the lobby and I got facedown on the marble."

Wood said he came into the lobby from lunch at that time. He saw McNulty and wondered why no one was helping him.

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