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Police kill Discovery gunman

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

SILVER SPRING, Md. -- A man who railed against the Discovery Channel's environmental programming for years burst into the company's headquarters with at least one explosive device strapped to his body Wednesday and took three people hostage at gunpoint before police shot him to death, officials said.

The hostages -- two Discovery Communications employees and a security officer -- were unhurt after the hourslong standoff. Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said tactical officers moved in after officers monitoring Lee on building security cameras saw him pull out his handgun and point it at one of the hostages.

An explosive device on the gunman's body detonated when police shot him, Manger said. Police were trying to determine whether two boxes and two backpacks the gunman had also contained explosives.

Manger said police spent several hours negotiating with the armed man after he entered the suburban Washington building about 1 p.m. None of the 1,900 people who work in the building were hurt, and most made it out before the standoff ended.

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said authorities had identified James J. Lee as the likely suspect.

Lee was convicted of disorderly conduct for a protest he organized outside Discovery's offices in February 2008. According to police reports, he paid homeless people to carry signs, and set off a scramble for money when he threw fistfuls of cash into the air, calling it ''just trash.''

Lee served two weeks in jail. Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said Lee was ordered to stay 500 feet away from Discovery headquarters as part of his probation, which ended two weeks ago. A magistrate ordered a doctor's evaluation, but the result was not immediately available Wednesday.

''The Discovery Channel produces many so-called 'Environmental Programs' supposedly there to save the planet,'' Lee said in an ad he took out in a Washington newspaper to promote the protest. ''But the truth is things are getting WORSE! Their programs are causing more harm than good.''

In court and online, Lee faulted the Discovery Channel for shows as varied as ''Future Weapons,'' ''It Takes a Thief'' and ''Planet Green.''

A lengthy posting that could be seen Wednesday on a website registered to Lee said Discovery and its affiliates should stop ''encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants,'' a possible reference to shows like ''Kate Plus 8'' and ''19 Kids and Counting.'' Instead, he said, the network should air ''programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility.''

Discovery Communications Inc. operates U.S. cable and satellite networks including The Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet. Discovery shows include ''Cash Cab'' and ''Man vs. Wild,'' and TLC airs ''American Chopper'' and ''Kate Plus 8.''

David Leavy, Discovery's executive vice president for corporate affairs, said all employees had been accounted for. ''We're relieved that it ended without any harm to our employees."