NEW YORK — 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.”
More on the Discovery hostage-taking
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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