Video: NBC producer: Gunman wanted his story told

  1. Transcript of: NBC producer: Gunman wanted his story told

    MATT LAUER, co-host: All right, Tom Costello in Maryland for us this morning. Rob Rivas is the NBC News producer who spoke to that gunman in the middle of the crisis. Rob , good morning, good to see you.

    Mr. RIVAS: Good morning, Matt.

    LAUER: First of all, your level of surprise. You call the front desk as an effort to cover this story and the guy gets on the phone.

    Mr. RIVAS: Absolutely. I mean, as part of standard operating procedure we had reports of a gun and we would call authorities the location to see whether or not this was in fact true, and can you imagine our surprise when we actually got the gunman on the line.

    LAUER: First of all, were you always convinced it was in fact the gunman?

    Mr. RIVAS: The tone of his voice indicated that he was someone who was anxious who wanted to be heard. So I was not taking anything for granted.

    LAUER: A couple of things surprised me, Rob . One is his willingness to stay on the phone in the midst of this . And two, how calm he sounded.

    Mr. RIVAS: Absolutely. He wanted to have his story told, at least as far as I could tell. He spoke the entire time. I never heard him make any direct threats to anyone in the room. If there were people in the room with him, it sounded like an average conversation between two individuals.

    LAUER: I mean, when you're talking to him, and I'm listening to some of the questions you asked him, was that your -- just your gut instincts as a journalist kicking in? You were also in contact with the police. Were they feeding you some of the things they wanted you to ask them?

    Mr. RIVAS: No, no, they weren't feeding us any information or questions but they did want us to keep the lines of communication open and continue having an open dialogue. So my goal, along with getting as much pertinent information as I thought was necessary, was really trying to get information and keep him on the line as long as I possibly could.

    LAUER: What ended the conversation? What finally got him to get off the phone?

    Mr. RIVAS: A phone rang in the background. It sounded like a cell phone . And he just hung up.

    LAUER: Well, good job.

    Mr. RIVAS: Thanks.

msnbc.com
updated 9/2/2010 8:22:17 AM ET 2010-09-02T12:22:17

Editor’s note: This article includes language some readers may find offensive.

The man who held three hostages at the Discovery Communications building before he was killed by police Wednesday told NBC News in a brief telephone conversation that he was armed with several bombs he had been working on for as long as a month.

Asked how he had learned to make a bomb, the man said that he knew how to weld and read widely but that he also picked up pointers from the TV show “Mythbusters.”

The program airs on the Discovery Channel, one of the targets of the man’s years-long protest campaign against what he saw as the company’s failures to adequately program shows that made clear the threat to the planet from overpopulation and animal extinction. The program’s producers could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

NBC News producer Rob Rivas spoke to Lee for about 10 minutes, until the gunman terminated the call. During the call, NBC News informed Montgomery County authorities of the conversation and held off reporting it until the hostage standoff had been resolved. Police said they shot and killed the man at 4:50 p.m. ET when he pointed a gun at one of the hostages.

Gunman cites popular environmental novel
In the call, the man identified himself as James J. Lee — the same name given by numerous law enforcement authorities as police negotiated with him Wednesday afternoon at the building in suburban Washington, D.C.

NBC News producers had called the building to check out initial reports of the hostage situation, and suddenly Lee came on the line.

“I have a gun and I have a bomb,” he said. “I have several bombs strapped to my body ready to go off. I have a device that if I drop it, it will fuckin’ explode.”

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Lee told Rivas that he had been working on the explosive devices for “three weeks — around three weeks or a month. I did a lot of research and experiments.”

On the call, Lee seemed determined to get his point across, referring to a rambling statement he published on his website excoriating Discovery Communications — which, in addition to the Discovery Channel, operates the TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Planet Green networks.

He made several references to the novel “My Ishmael” by environmentalist Daniel Quinn, which tells the tale of conversations between a 12-year-girl and a gorilla named Ishmael, who is seeking to hire a student to help save the world.

Quinn told msnbc.com on Wednesday that he had never been in touch with Lee.

“What his take on the book is, I don’t know,” Quinn said. “It’s hard to imagine how he got from reading this book to his current behavior. It certainly puzzles me.”

Rivas, interviewed Thursday on TODAY, said Lee appeared anxious during the call. "He wanted to have his story told," Rivas said. "He spoke the entire time. I never heard him make any direct threats to anyone in the room, if there were people in the room with him. It sounded like an average conversation between two individuals.”

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