Details of Discovery hostage situation emerge at Montgomery forum

This video of a training seminar on preventing workplace violence shows James J. Lee strapping a homemade bomb to his back and communicating with police moments before a tactical team shoots and kills him.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 8:49 PM

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.

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