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Details of Discovery hostage situation emerge at Montgomery forum

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 12:45 AM

Twenty-three days before James J. Lee strapped a bomb to his back, walked into the Discovery building in Silver Spring and took three hostages, he sat down and made a simple entry into the calendar on his computer:

"The End," he wrote for Sept. 1.

That detail came to light Tuesday during a training seminar on preventing workplace violence that was held at a nearby conference center. It was one of many new revelations about the nearly four-hour standoff that surfaced during a 90-minute presentation by Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman. Among the details:

-- One of the first officers to respond, Ed Paden, was off duty but heard about the bomber on his radio. He got inside the building and worked his way to a control room, where he could watch Lee on security cameras.

-- Snipers quickly took position outside the building, and ideally would have taken Lee out, but were concerned the glass walls were too thick for a good shot.

-- As tactical officers slipped through the building to get near Lee, one of them - in a move evocative of the film "The Bourne Identity" - spotted a small evacuation-route diagram on the wall, ripped it off, and used it as crude blue prints to set up position.

-- One particular hostage negotiator was on the phone with Lee throughout the ordeal, at times offering to meet the bomber's bizarre demands, and at others trying to dissuade him from blowing himself up.

"I have nothing else to live for," Lee said, according to recordings played Tuesday.

"Now why do you say that, Mr. Lee?" the negotiator asked. "What do you mean you have nothing else to live for?"

"This is it," Lee said. "This is the end, all right!"

Lee, a militant environmentalist, wanted to air his views on overpopulation on a national network. But just before 5 p.m., two hostages ran from him and he tried to chase them - prompting two tactical teams to run in from behind walls and fatally shoot him. All three hostages survived.

By coincidence, the seminar - planned months ago - took place within two blocks of the Discovery building in downtown Silver Spring.

Jerman walked his audience through the Discovery incident, showing snippets of internal surveillance videos and recordings of Lee and others talking.

One of the images showed Lee about 1 p.m., when he walked into the lobby wheeling at least one box on a dolly. He can be seen removing items and strapping on a backpack frame, which held two propane tanks and an oxygen tank on the back. Closeup photos of the device also showed a pipe bomb and a detonator built out of model rocket launcher.

Jerman played recordings of Paden, the off-duty officer, saying he was getting close to the suspect. Paden also warned of a low battery and said he feared his radio might go dead.

Police quickly observed Lee holding a large switch - about the size of a staple gun - in his hand. He also had a pin that he kept on a lanyard around his neck. Lee placed the pin in the switch when he moved the switch from one hand to the other. Police feared it was a "dead man's switch" that would set the bomb off if Lee was shot.

A veteran hostage negotiator arrived before the command bus, and he started talking to Lee on his cellphone.

On recordings, Lee can be heard quickly getting irritated. "Don't bull [expletive] me, man. I know what you're trying to do. Don't bull [expletive] me."

"No, no, no," the negotiator calmly responds. "I'm not trying to bull [expletive] you. I'm actually sitting in my car in a parking garage and I'm trying to help you out so we can resolve this."

Jerman also showed video of the moments immediately before tactical officers moved in.

Lee can be heard demanding network time. The negotiator suggested that he could get a written promise from someone. "We're going to get you a document, notarized," he said.

"Oh, wow," Lee said sarcastically, before saying with great agitation: "No, no, no, no, no. It has to be broadcast on the, on the, on the, on the, on the network."

Out of sight of the camera, there was a commotion: The hostages were running away. "Hey! Hey! Hey!" Lee yells, just before the officers make their moves.

The video didn't show him getting shot.

Jerman said that during the crisis, police were trying to find out where Lee lived to search his home. But they couldn't. Then the next day, Jerman said, his landlord called police. They searched his home and found the Outlook calendar entry.

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