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Recap: Discovery hostages on Oprah

Dan Morse

Update: 4:50: It's over. Hostage Jim McNulty said he heard SWAT officers fire multiple rounds: "Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop," he said.

Here is a recap, based on a rush transcript of my notes. There will be a full story in tomorrow's paper and on later today.

McNulty, who works for Discovery, said he was coming in for a 1 p.m. meeting and happened to be walking into the lobby.

"I see a man holding gun to guard behind desk," he said.

The man told him to get on the floor.

"I got face down on the marble. You can hear him putting together a bomb device. I started thinking 'Why does someone want to rob Discovery? We don't have any money here.' He started going off about saving the world. I was on marble floor to the pilar of desk. I started praying: 'Hail Mary, Hail Mary.'"

McNulty said he didn't want to tell him what he did.

"The way he was talking about networks. It would be safer if I wasn't a factor. I told him I was in scheduling. He said 'You in the glasses, stand up.' I was like 'I’m in scheduling, sir.'"

Chris Wood said that as he came in the lobby, Lee pointed a gun at him.

McNulty said he was thinking about his daughter, 5, and son, almost 3.

Wood said he was able to "look around and see the movement outside."

Wood said he thought this before running: "My idea in my head was 'I'm going out of the same door I came in. I knew one of the doors sticks.'"

One he got home, McNulty said he held his kids tight. "My daughter's like, 'Daddy, let go.' I'm like, 'Uh uh.' You hate that it takes something like this to make you really appreciate what you have."

Update: 4:19 p.m.

Looks like the segment is over. Some highlights ...

Hostage Chris Wood told Oprah:

"The gunman was wielding the gun at me, and saying 'Get on the floor.'"

Wood was able to send an e-mail to his boss, saying he was being held hostage with McNulty in the lobby.

Wood said he also thought to himself: "I'm not ready to die."

Both hostages descrbed running away from Lee.

"I just booked it," McNulty said, explaining how he ran outside. "I did a baseball slide behind a half wall."

Wood said he ran about as fast as he has in his life.

He eventually was able to call his mother, and said how hard it was to hear her so choked up.

McNulty said that when he finally returned to his house, he hugged his kids.

Update: 4:10 p.m.

Hostage Jim McNulty gives more details of how James J. Lee pressed him about his children while holding him hostage. (Lee thought there were too many people on the planet, part of his environmental extremism.)

"Who told you to have a child?" Lee asked him. "What's so good about your filthy children?!"

"They're very kind, sir," McNulty said he told him.


Update: 4:03 p.m.

The episode is underway. They're playing 911 tapes.

"List to the 911 calls as all broke loose," Oprah said.

Original post:

Speaking publicly for the first time, two hostages held in the standoff at Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring will appear on Oprah at 4 p.m. today. We will blog highlights during the segment.

The third hostage, a private security guard, was invited to go on Oprah but declined.

ABC-7 previewed a snippet of the interview Wednesday night.

“So who made the decision that 'We're going to run for it?'" Oprah asks.

"It was a mixture of signals," Chris Wood answers. "The guard was signaling with the police outside. I took that as, 'It's time to run.' I didn't realize that he was talking to the police outside via hand signals. I mouthed to the guard and I said, 'Run.' And he shook his head 'Yes.'"

Their concern was well-placed. James J. Lee, an environmental militant, had walked into the building lobby at 1 p.m. two weeks ago with explosives strapped to his back. He was also pointing a gun, which looked real at time, even as it turned out to be a starter pistol.

It had been a harrowing afternoon for the hostages, who were forced to lie on the ground, and for the police, who held off shooting Lee because they were concerned that doing so would trigger Lee's explosives and kill the three hostages.

Police were monitoring Lee, in part by using building surveillance cameras. About the time at least one of the hostages made their break, a SWAT team rushed in from the other side of a wall and shot him at least twice. He died.

The second hostage interviewed, Jim McNulty, told Oprah he prayed as he was held hostage before a calm came over him and he thought. "What do I need to do?" according to an Associated Press story Thursday. McNulty also said that at one point, Lee asked him why he chose to have three children.

This tracked with Lee's beliefs, underscoring that while he may have been demented enough to threaten to kill three people, he was lucid enough to maintain consistent views.

In Internet writings, he stated that human reproduction was polluting the planet.

"Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what's left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture," he wrote in an 11-point Internet communique.

"Saving the Planet means . . . decreasing the Human population," he also wrote. "That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies!"

The Oprah episode will offer details to how an unhinged person came into contact with people going about the normal day in downtown Silver Spring.

McNulty told Oprah he walked into the building's lobby and saw a man holding a gun to the guard behind a desk, according to the AP account.

Greg Twardowski, president of SFI-Whelan Security, the firm that employed the guard, emailed us today in response to questions about his involvement:

"The third hostage, one of our security officers, was invited to participate in the Oprah interviews as well – but declined. He has also declined interview opportunities with other significant national news programs; and he prefers to maintain some degree of anonymity and normalcy," Twardowski wrote. "He has asked for our assistance in that regard, and we respect his position. With his approval, we are, however, nominating him for several major awards within the security industry …

"Needless to say, we are extremely proud of his response and actions during the hostage situation, and we are grateful that no one was injured in the facility."

-- Dan Morse

By Dan Morse  |  September 16, 2010; 5:08 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse , Montgomery , Updates  
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