James J. Lee told Discovery hostages: 'Today is a good day to die'

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.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 18, 2010

He pointed a gun at them. He talked up the explosives strapped to his back. He convinced his hostages they could die at any second.

"I don't care about them," Discovery building invader James J. Lee told a police negotiator over the phone. "I'll blow myself up and take them with me."

The remark was recalled by two of the hostages, Jim McNulty and Chris Wood, in an 80-minute interview Friday about the four-hour standoff on Sept. 1 in the lobby of Discovery Communications' headquarters in downtown Silver Spring. The ordeal ended when police fatally shot Lee as McNulty and Wood bolted for the door.

The third hostage, a security guard, has yet to speak publicly. Wood and McNulty praised him. "He kept everything calm," McNulty said.

Sept. 1 had begun like any other day for McNulty, a producer, and Wood, a marketing specialist. But everything changed when McNulty walked into the lobby about 1 p.m. and saw Lee pointing his gun at the guard. Lee turned the gun on McNulty and ordered him to the ground. Wood then came in and was ordered to the ground about 25 feet from McNulty. Soon there were just four people in the spacious glass-walled lobby.

Lee, an environmental militant who believed that humans were overcrowding the world, strapped on his explosives, donned a wireless headset and set out a speaker.

"Where are the snipers?" he said, according to Wood and McNulty. "Why don't I see any snipers? Today is a good day to die. You guys are going to be heroes if you get out alive."

But police were quickly descending on the building. Sharpshooters took their positions outside. Other tactical teams entered the building, making their way toward the lobby.

Inside, the three hostages tried to keep the situation from escalating. One time, Lee became angered when a video screen in the lobby showed images of children and animals. He was upset about the children, who he felt were contributing to overpopulation, but he had told his hostages that he liked squirrels.

To try to calm him, the guard told Lee that the children were learning about animals. "The animals that you like," the guard said, according to Wood and McNulty.

Forty minutes into the standoff, Lee ordered McNulty, 36, to stand and walk to him at the reception desk. By then, McNulty had heard Lee criticizing the networks. Asked what he did, McNulty underplayed his role, saying he was in scheduling.

"I'm done with you," Lee said. "Lay back down."

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