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Discovery Hostages Knew Gunman Was Ready To Die | News

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Discovery Hostages Knew Gunman Was Ready To Die

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) -- As they lay on the floor of the Discovery Communications' lobby, listening to a gunman James Jae Lee rant about overpopulation, religion and the channel's programming and watching him strap a bomb to himself, two hostages came to the same conclusion: The gunman had no intention of leaving the building alive.

Jim McNulty and Christopher Wood tried to placate gunman James Jae Lee the best they could during the Sept. 1 standoff. They lied about their jobs at Discovery's sister network, TLC, hoping not to fuel his anger.

McNulty prayed for guidance. Wood broke down in tears, then got angry and started to formulate an escape plan. It didn't come off seamlessly -- but they both got out alive and unhurt, as did a security guard who was held hostage with them.

Seventeen days after their harrowing, four-hour ordeal, Wood and McNulty were able to describe it evenhandedly in a 25-minute interview with The Associated Press. But McNulty's voice cracked when he recalled the brief phone conversation with his wife after their escape.

"I'm OK, I'm OK, I'm OK," he told her. "I love you."

Lee, 43, had protested at Discovery's Silver Spring headquarters previously, zeroing in on TLC programs like "Jon & Kate Plus 8" and "19 Kids and Counting," which he argued should be replaced by "programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility."

A judge ordered Lee to stay 500 feet from the building for two years after his 2008 protest, during which he threw fistfuls of cash into the air. Two weeks after his probation ended, he was back -- this time with weapons.

He was shot dead by police immediately after Wood and McNulty ran out of the lobby.

Many Discovery employees remembered Lee, and some said they were not surprised to find out he was the gunman. But neither Wood nor McNulty recognized him when they walked into the lobby and saw him pointing a gun -- later found to be a starter pistol -- at the security guard.

The only reason they were taken hostage, as far as they know, is that they happened to walk into the building around the same time. McNulty, who writes and produces promotions for TLC's marketing department, was arriving for a meeting. Wood, a marketing specialist, was coming back from lunch.

"Wrong place, wrong time," Wood said.

When McNulty saw Lee pointing a gun at the guard, he first thought was that it was being staged as part of a production.

"Who would want to rob the lobby of Discovery?" McNulty said. "It just didn't compute."

Then Lee pointed the gun at McNulty and yelled, "On the ground! On the ground!"

Wood arrived a few minutes later and was ordered to the floor by Lee.

In turn, Lee made both of them stand up and talk to him. At that point they knew they shouldn't say much. McNulty told Lee he worked in scheduling. Wood said he filed papers.

"I was just giving him no response, one-word answers, not feeding into anything, which I guess is eventually why he got bored with me," Wood said.

Wood did tell Lee that he had no children and promised not to have any -- responses that Lee apparently wanted to hear. McNulty, though, couldn't lie about his two kids, and that set Lee off. He asked McNulty if he would have his children sterilized.

"I said, 'I think it's their decision, sir,"' McNulty said.

McNulty doesn't remember much of what Lee said.

"He railed against the Constitution. He was talking about how humanity was the filthiest animal on the planet, and the earth didn't need humans," McNulty said. "It just became very clear that he was there either to die at his hands or at the police's."

Lee's repeated conversations with a hostage negotiator were not encouraging.

Lee "was just getting annoyed with him. He called him a nag at one point. He said he sounded like a used car salesman," Wood said. "He said, 'I'm not giving up the hostages until I get what I want.' He wasn't negotiating, he wasn't reasonable."

Religion was another subject of Lee's rants, and McNulty was relieved Lee never asked him about that topic, because he couldn't have lied about his Roman Catholic faith. He said countless Hail Marys to himself.

"Once the initial adrenaline wore off ... I started to realize, 'OK, I'm a hostage, what does that mean?' I don't know if it was the Holy Spirit, or a survival instinct or what," McNulty said. "I just started kind of going through a checklist."

Wood, meanwhile, became convinced he was going to die, and sobbed on the floor. The grief turned to anger, which strengthened his resolve.

"This is not the way I'm going to die," he told himself. "No one has the right to make this decision for me, and it's most certainly not going to be here."

Both McNulty and Wood had seen the guard making hand signals and assumed he was communicating with police outside. McNulty had seen movement near a bank of elevators.

The guard mentioned that Wood had been on the floor for a long time, and Lee made him stand up. Wood looked around for the gun and didn't see it. He mouthed the word "run" to the guard, who nodded his head. Wood mouthed "run" to McNulty and began counting "three, two, one" with his fingers. He stopped when Lee looked at him, then started again.

But when Wood bolted for the door, McNulty had a different idea. He assumed the SWAT team was about to start shooting and took cover behind a pillar. Then he realized Wood was nearly out of the building.

McNulty realized he was about to be alone with Lee and the guard, and was terrified.

"A voice went off in my head that just said, 'Run,"' McNulty said. He saw Lee turn his head in his direction. "I looked at that door and did not look back and ran as hard as I possibly could."

Both were afraid Lee would shoot them as they ran, but they made the same calculation: They were more likely to survive a gunshot than a bomb blast.

As soon as McNulty got outside, he heard the "pop, pop, pop" of the gunshots that killed Lee.

Wood and McNulty did not expand upon the role of the guard, a former military officer who served in Iraq, in deference to his desire for privacy. But they said his actions were heroic.

McNulty called his wife and told her he was OK, then was overcome and had to hand the phone to a police officer. Wood left his cell phone in the lobby and could only remember his mother's number. He broke down when he spoke to her. Only later was he able to reach his partner of three years.

He slept in his own bed that night.

"It was not the best night's sleep I ever had, but it was the best feeling to be at home," Wood said. "The next morning I woke up before the sunrise, went out into the living room by myself, and I've woken up before the sunrise almost every morning since. Just to appreciate it, and to watch it. I don't know what it is, but it's the most beautiful sight I've ever seen."