washingtonpost.com
Hostages describe standoff at Discovery building

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 2010; B04

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.

"As I was coming in the second door, the gunman was wielding the gun at me and saying, 'Get on the floor! Get on the floor!' "

McNulty said the man was criticizing networks. Among his environmental beliefs: The world was too crowded, and animals were better than people.

"He said, 'You in the glasses, stand up,' " McNulty said. "And I walked over. [He asked,] What do you do? I said, 'I'm in scheduling, sir.' "

McNulty said he did not want to tell the gunman that he was a producer for TLC, part of Discovery. Lee also asked the guard and McNulty whether they had children. McNulty told him he had two.

"Who told you to have children?" Lee asked him, according to McNulty, recalling the exchange.

"No one, sir," McNulty said.

"Well, nobody loved you. You had to make somebody to love you. Why two children? One wasn't good enough? So what's so good about your filthy children?"

"They're very kind, sir."

"You're going to have them sterilized, right?"

"Well, I'll tell him your thoughts on that."

"Well, why wouldn't you have them sterilized?"

"I think that's their decision, sir."

The hostages said on television that their decision to run was based in part on a misinterpretation of Wood using his fingers to count down from three to one. McNulty said he thought that Wood was telling him that SWAT officers were coming.

The police were monitoring Lee using the building video.

"One hostage bolted for the door," Manger said. "The other one bolted to go behind a pillar. . . . The security guy stood still. The bad guy was sitting on the desk; he jumped down off the desk."

About that point, the officers raced in from around a wall and shot at Lee, who had explosives strapped to his back and was holding a pistol.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company