Police tonight shot an armed man who took three hostages at the Discovery Channel network’s headquarters. All of hostages escaped safely.
Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said he did not know whether police killed the gunman, who was upset about the network’s programming.
Police spent several hours negotiating with him after he burst into the suburban Washington building at about 1pm (6pm Irish time) today waving a handgun and with canisters strapped to his body.
Mr Manger said an explosive device may have detonated and the suspect may have brought other devices into the building in Silver Spring, Maryland. He said as far as he knew, the 1,900 people who work in the building were able to get out safely.
A law enforcement official said authorities had identified James Lee as the likely suspect.
A different official said Lee had previously protested outside the building, where he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in February 2008, according to court records.
Police reports indicate he paid homeless people to join his protest and carry signs outside the building. He gave one individual $1,000 for what he considered a prize-winning essay.
At one point, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered around Lee, 43, who referred to money as “just trash” and began throwing fistfuls into the air.
At the trial, The Gazette of Montgomery County reported, he said he began working to save the planet after being laid off from his job in San Diego. He said he was inspired by Ishmael, a novel by environmentalist Daniel Quinn and by former US vice president Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
A website registered to Lee criticised Discovery and announced plans for the protest in January 2008, saying: “These guys have been very sneaky and deceptive as to their contribution to the planetary problems. Just look at their ’new’ show about saving the planet, ’Planet Green’, to me, it’s just another show about more PRODUCTS to make MONEY, not about actual solutions. We can’t let them get away with doing it anymore.”
Discovery Communications operates cable and satellite networks in the US, including The Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet.
Animal Planet also airs the controversial series Whale Wars, about attempts by environmentalists to disrupt the Japanese whaling industry.
After Lee’s arrest, a magistrate ordered a doctor’s evaluation, but court records do not immediately indicate the result.
Lee was convicted by a jury and served two weeks in jail. He was also ordered to stay 500 feet away from Discovery headquarters.
Authorities descended on the area and FBI Washington field office spokesman Andrew Ames said FBI bomb technicians and police commando personnel were also at the scene.
Mr Manger said one explosive device detonated on the gunman's body when they shot him and police were working to determine whether two boxes and two backpacks he also had with him were explosives.
He said officers were monitoring Lee on building security cameras and tactical officers moved in when they saw him pull out the handgun and point it at one of the hostages.