Police search Wheaton residence of man who held hostages at Discovery Building
Police say they found explosive devices in house; neighbor says Lee kept to himself
Montgomery County police say they found four more explosive devices in the Wheaton residence of the man who was killed Wednesday after holding three hostages for hours in the Discovery Communications world headquarters in downtown Silver Spring.
The four devices were obtained from the rental residence of the hostage-taker identified by police as James J. Lee and successfully disarmed, said Montgomery County Fire Chief Richard Bowers. Bowers would not clarify the type of bombs or how much damage they would have caused had they detonated.
Lee may not have had explosive equipment strapped to his person upon entering the Discovery building, Bowers said. The devices may have been in a backpack, he said.
"Had he been able to detonate those devices ... certainly the hostages were close enough that they were in harm's way," Bowers said.
Lee said things like "I'm ready to die," and that he had no regard for his life or the lives of the hostages during the standoff, said Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger at a news conference today.
"I can't imagine how terrified someone would be ... all they heard was his side of the conversation," Manger said of the hostages.
County police joined agents from the FBI in searching Lee's residence at 2512 Kimberly Street in Wheaton, said Montgomery County Police spokeswoman Angela Cruz. Police do not know the last time Lee was at the residence, but they assume he had been there recently, Bowers said.
The information on how many shooters and how many shots were fired by officers will not, most likely, be released until a grand jury makes a ruling that the shots fired were an acceptable use of a police weapon, Manger said. Authorities won't be able to interview any of the people who fired the fatal shots for 10 days due to county policy, Manger said.
There were multiple shots taken by a plural number of officers, he said.
Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said when Lee was arrested two years ago for disorderly conduct outside the Discovery building, he was arraigned and evaluated for mental illness and found to be competent. Lee was never under psychiatric care, he said.
If it was determined that Lee had a mental illness that prevented him from purchasing weapons, he still could have obtained starter pistols, Manger said. There were two starter pistols found on the scene.
There's no indication that Lee was working with anyone else, Bowers said. Authorities are looking for a vehicle Lee may have owned or operated Wednesday, though they don't have a description of the vehicle, he said.
'That's when it clicked'
Tim Grahl, of 2511 Kimberly St. in Wheaton, lives across the street from the house and recalled seeing James J. Lee, whom police identified as the hostage-taker, in the mornings on their way to work.
"I just saw him coming and going on occasion; when I saw his face on the news I thought he seemed familiar,'' Grahl said, adding that it wasn't until his wife called him to tell him about the hostage situation in Silver Spring Wednesday that he recognized his neighbor. "That's when it clicked.''
Grahl, who has lived in his house for about a year and a half, said he thought Lee had lived in the area for a few months. Lee often wore a plain black hat and walked to the Metro while wearing a one-piece, dark-colored worker's uniform, Grahl added.
"I wouldn't say that I would characterize him as being suspicious,'' Grahl said. "Just like someone who keeps to himself when I saw him walking out, he wouldn't say, Hi, how's it going,' or anything like that.''
The neighborhood is usually very friendly, Grahl added, saying he never noticed anything about Lee or the house that made him suspect the man was planning a crime.
Lee's landlord, Silver Spring resident Francisco A. Valerio, was unavailable for comment when reached by telephone earlier today. Valerio's daughter, Tiffany Batista, said the family was not prepared to comment as of today.
Incident motivated by radical beliefs
According to Lee's website, www.savetheplanetprotest.com, Lee wanted to raise awareness that the Discovery Channel lacked programming that addressed the real problems in the environment. the website reads: ''The Discovery Channel is actually not about saving the planet, they are just another 'green' corporation whose real interests lie in MONEY! Products! Junk! Trash!"
It was these beliefs that motivated Lee, 42, formerly of San Diego, to enter the lobby of the Discovery Building through the Wayne Avenue/Georgia Avenue entrance at 1 p.m. Wednesday armed with a handgun and three suspicious packages, along with several canisters strapped to his chest, police said. Lee quickly took three hostages; a security guard and two Discovery employees, Manger said at a press conference after the event Wednesday.
Of the 1,900 employees who work in the building, most had been evacuated by 3:30 p.m., Manger said.
Police immediately set up a command post, closed off much of downtown Silver Spring to traffic, and began negotiating directly with Lee to release the hostages, Manger said. Police were also able to use surveillance cameras in the Discovery building to monitor Lee's movements.
"There was actually very little time we weren't in contact with him [during the incident]," Manger said. "He didn't move around a lot but where [Discovery] had cameras we were able to keep an eye on him."
Several hours later police observed Lee pull out a gun during negotiations and point it at a hostage who was moving on a surveillance camera, Manger said. At 4:48 p.m., Lee was shot and killed by a team of tactical officers.
County police received tactical assistance from the Maryland State Police, the FBI and other agencies, but both an FBI agent and MSP spokesman Greg Shipley confirmed the county police's tactical unit took the lead in Lee's shooting.
"We were there to assist Montgomery County," Wolf said today. "We had numerous people out there, one of which was our SWAT team, but it was really Montgomery County that took the lead in this case."
Despite the fact that one of Lee's devices appeared to detonate with a loud pop followed by a large amount of smoke immediately after the shooting, all three hostages were rescued without injury, Manger said. The building remained in lockdown much of Wednesday night as officials searched the building for more of Lee's devices or potential explosives.
Among the agencies and resources at hand to assist county police were six bomb squads from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, said MCFRS spokesman Capt. Oscar Garcia.
'We believed that the hostages' lives were in danger'
Manger supported the actions of the police involved in the shooting, saying the department's rules regarding use of deadly force clearly outline such an eventuality for officers.
"You don't use deadly force unless your life or the life of someone else is in danger," Manger said of the department's policy Wednesday. "In this case, we believed that the hostages' lives were in danger."
Lee was no stranger to Discovery Communications. He was arrested for disorderly conduct Feb. 21, 2008, after holding a protest in front of the Discovery Building during which he gave away prizes of up to $1,000 to people who wrote essays supporting his cause. Police arrived on the scene after one of the essayists was hospitalized in an attempted robbery shortly after receiving $1,000 from Lee, according to court documents.
After confronting Lee about the robbery in front of the Discovery building, Police allege that Lee began throwing fistfuls of money into a nearby crowd of about 100 bystanders, causing a public disturbance in which several people and police were shoved. Lee was arrested for disorderly conduct and littering, and officers found over $20,000 on his person, the documents stated.
Lee was sentenced to 60 days in jail for that incident and served all but 14 of them. He was also fined more than $1,000. His probation prohibited him from being within 500 feet of the Discovery building for two years, but his probation expired two weeks ago, according to court documents, which list Lee's address as 8210 Colonial Lane, the address of the Shepherd's Table homeless center in downtown Silver Spring.
Jacki Coyle, executive director of Shepherd's Table, did not recall Lee ever visiting the homeless center. A letter did arrive for Lee at the center that he never picked up in 2008, Coyle said.
"He evidently had given us as an address, but he never officially came here and applied for it," Coyle said, explaining that many homeless people use the center as a postal address to have letters delivered. "Nobody here really knows of him coming here for services." "We're as baffled as many people are as to why he put us down as an address," Coyle said.
Discovery spokesman David Leavy on Wednesday praised the professionalism of Discovery security staff as well as law enforcement and fire and rescue units.
Discovery springs into emergency plan
Leavy also said that Discovery security knew who Lee was right away and sprang into action to execute its emergency plan.
"We had his photo front and center on our security bulletin board,'' Leavy said.
Manger applauded the teamwork of the units on hand during the hostage situation.
"We trained together, so when things like this happen, we're prepared; ... no one department has it all, but together we've got everything we need," Manger said.
Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal, County Executive Isiah Leggett and Congressman Chris Van Hollen all celebrated the efforts of the units on the scene.
On the Discovery Communications blog, hostage Jim McNulty thanked Discovery as well as Montgomery County Police and his family, friends and coworkers at Discovery.
"I thank you all for your concern during these harrowing hours," he said.