SILVER SPRING, Md. — A gunman with a possible explosive device strapped to himself entered the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Md., Wednesday afternoon and was holding a “small number” of hostages, police said.
Montgomery County police Chief Thomas Manger said hostage negotiators were talking with the man but said he would not reveal the nature of the negotiations. No injuries were known, he said, and he wouldn’t confirm reports that a shot or shots had been fired.
People on the eighth and ninth floors of the building in the close-in suburb of Washington were safely evacuated, as were children in the Discovery Kids Place day care center, police said, adding that nobody was known to have been injured.
Law enforcement authorities told NBC News they believed the man was James Jay Lee or James Jae Lee, 43, a longtime protester at the building who was sentenced to six months of supervised probation for disorderly conduct in March 2008.
“The good thing is we have the outside of the building secure, we’re talking with him, and he wants to talk with us,” Montgomery County police Capt. Paul Starks said.
‘The planet does not need humans’
Lee appears to have posted environmental and population-control demands online, saying humans are ruining the planet and that Discovery should develop programs to sound the alarm.
“I want Discovery Communications to broadcast on their channels to the world their new program lineup and I want proof they are doing so. I want the new shows started by asking the public for inventive solution ideas to save the planet and the remaining wildlife on it,” the alleged manifesto reads, adding:"Nothing is more important than saving ... the Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels. The humans? The planet does not need humans.”
At the time of his conviction in March 2008, Lee was identified as being from San Diego. Court records said he was arrested Feb. 21, 2008, on the sixth day of a protest at the Discovery building. Police were called when a crowd that had gathered began growing “unruly” as Lee threw thousands of dollars of cash into the air, some of it still in shrink-wrapped packages, police said at the time. (Lee was found not guilty of littering.)
..Lee said he experienced an ‘‘awakening” when he watched former Vice President Al Gore’s environmental documentary ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth.”
Nathaniel Harrington, a former Discovery employee, told msnbc TV’s Peter Alexander that he saw Lee outside the building during the 2008 protest.
“He was seen as something of a joke,” Harrington said. “I hate to say it, but at the time we kind of half-joked about it because he could come back shooting. Nobody took it very seriously.
“As soon as I heard” the news Wednesday, “I knew it’s got to be Lee,” he said.
‘Chaotic’ scene described
A woman who works near the Discovery building told msnbc.com that she watched the situation unfold from her nearby 10th-floor office window.
“The Discovery building has thousands of people working for it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Debbie C. “Those people are the reason Silver Spring has a downtown area. What affects them affects the majority of people who live in Silver Spring.”
While authorities allowed Discovery employees to leave the office, many of them can’t leave without their cars, which are in the garage under the building, said Debbie C., who said she didn’t want to give her full name while the situation was still ongoing.
Helicopters and dozens of police cars were patrolling the area, and most of the streets had been blocked off,she said, and the few streets that were open were “crammed, packed with cars.”
Julienne Gage, who works in the building, told msnbc TV that she didn’t hear any shots fired. She said security at the building included cameras, as well as a receptionist and a security guard at the front entrance.
“It’s pretty chaotic,” Tariq Warner, a photographer for NBC station WRC-TV, said on msnbc. He said a woman ran past him screaming.
Discovery Communications reaches about 1.5 billion subscribers in more than 180 countries with the Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel and Planet Green networks.