Nightly News | September 01, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And now to the hostage drama that played out for much of this day just outside the nation's capital. It played out live on nonstop cable television all afternoon. It started when a man with a gun burst into the headquarters building of the Discovery Channel , and it didn't end until many hours later. Our own Tom Costello was on scene, covering it all in Silver Spring , Maryland . Tom , good evening.
TOM COSTELLO reporting: Hi, Brian. They think he had weapons, guns, as well as explosive devices. It lasted more than four hours, and it finally ended when police shot the suspect because they thought they saw him threatening to kill his hostages. All three hostages got out unharmed. Now, during this crisis, NBC News called Discovery . The suspect grabbed the phone away from the operator. Police asked us not to disclose the specifics of that conversation until the incident was over. It all began about 1:00 this afternoon when an armed man entered the Discovery Channel 's headquarters in Maryland , about a mile over the Washington , DC , border.
Unidentified Man: Having lunch in the cafeteria, and someone came to me -- running came to me and then said, like, 'Don't go into the lobby. There's some action going on there. Like, there are cops inside.'
COSTELLO: Police say the building was immediately ordered to be evacuated and most of the 1900 employees managed to get out.
Unidentified Woman #1: Panic, nervous, you know, afraid. We weren't sure if the gunman was going to come up the other floors or anything.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
Woman #1: So, you know, they told us to get into the interior offices and lock the doors and everything.
COSTELLO: A day care center also in the building was safely evacuated, and authorities said all children were reunited with their parents. But the gunman, identified as 43-year-old James J. Lee , held three employees hostage, telling them to, quote, "stay still." Police began roughly three hours of telephone negotiations with the suspect, but became increasingly concerned that he might harm the hostages. Investigators say on the scene they could see him inside the building, wearing what appeared to be pipe bombs. We can reveal tonight that shortly after the crisis began, NBC News called the Discovery Channel headquarters. When Lee himself grabbed the phone, an NBC News producer spoke to him for about 10 minutes and recorded the conversation.
Unidentified Producer: Do you have a gun?
Mr. JAMES J. LEE: I have a gun and I have bomb. I have several bombs strapped to my body ready to go off.
COSTELLO: NBC News elected not to reveal the conversation with Lee until the hostage crisis as over. Just shy of four hours after the stand-off started, police decided to shoot the suspect.
Mr. J. THOMAS MANGER (Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Chief): Based on the information that we had -- we believed that it was -- that the hostages'
lifewere in danger.
COSTELLO: Court records show Lee began protesting outside Discovery 's headquarters more than two years ago, handing out a rambling leaflet that called on Discovery to devote more programming to global warning and animal extinction. After he drew even larger crowds by throwing thousands of dollars into the air, he was arrested in February of 2008 and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Members of the bomb squad tell me they plan to spend much of the night inside that building, making safe at least four suspicious devices. Discovery representatives said that they had been aware of Mr. Lee for years, but, Brian , they never took his demands seriously.
WILLIAMS: Tom Costello , Silver Spring , Maryland , just outside the Washington , DC , border tonight. Tom , thanks.