TOWSON, Md. (WJZ/AP)– TV station attack. Police say a mentally ill man claiming to be God rammed a stolen truck through the front lobby of WMAR-TV station Tuesday, leaving a gaping hole as reporters and other staff fled the building. After an hours-long search and barricade situation, that man is finally in custody.
Mike Hellgren reports the 29-year-old suspect was not armed with a gun but police did find him clutching a golf club.
The suspect allegedly left a note hanging on the TV station's second story window–where he was held up– that read "Just wait (expletive)." He is now receiving medical help.
Police took the man into custody just before 5 p.m. Tuesday—nearly five hours after he rammed a truck through the building.
Police say he was ranting incoherently but was apprehended without incident.
No one, including the suspect, was injured.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz says the suspect is mentally ill and has been taken for treatment.
"It's very clear the subject is suffering from emotional or mental health issues," Police Chief James Johnson said.
It started before noon Tuesday. Police received a 911 call around 11:45 a.m. about a man banging on the door and trying to get inside, public safety spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. Within minutes, a call reported that a vehicle had come into the newsroom.
Witnesses say the suspect began rattling on against the security door, demanding to be let in, claiming "I am God. I am God."
When officers arrived to the station, the suspect was not inside the vehicle. Police then formed what they call a "tactical barrier situation."
SWAT teams surrounded the building and expanded the perimeter.
Police say the suspect stole an unattended truck that belongs to Ashton Manor, a State Highway Administration subcontractor. The landscaping company's work site is located less than 5 miles from the scene.
The company released the following statement:
"An Ashton Manor Environmental work vehicle was stolen from a job site located on 695 east, near exit 26. It is our understanding the vehicle was then involved in an incident at WMAR-TV in Towson. We are thankful that none of our employees were injured when the vehicle was stolen. We are cooperating with the police in the ongoing investigation."
Michael Marion was in his office off WMAR-TV's lobby during the commotion.
"I heard a series of crashes," Marion said. "The next thing, I looked in the lobby, and the only thing between truck and the lobby was the final door. I heard one final crash. I looked through the door, and by then the truck was pulling in the lobby."
WMAR anchor Jamie Costello told WJZ's Derek Valcourt, "I could see glass, the whole wall was going through. Then I could see the beginning of the truck. Everybody was in utter disbelief of what was going on right there at that second. I don't know how in the world we got away with nobody getting hurt. I really don't. Because that lobby is packed all the time…..We were attacked."
WMAR-TV news director Kelly Groft instructed everyone to leave the building.
"Once the lobby started to collapse, we knew it was time to get out," Groft said. "He drove right through the doors and into the main area."
"We actually practice evacuations here in the building," said Brian Lawlor.
Armacost says 55 people evacuated the building after it was rammed. But at least one person remained inside. Police say that employee was in the basement and gave officers info that helped with the search.
While police combed the building with robots and dogs, the suspect was apparently watching coverage of his standoff on television inside the station's second floor.
Next door, a school had been locked down, but students — escorted by staff to their parents — began leaving about 2:30 p.m.
Marion said the man banging on the security door wore an oxford shirt and a closed satchel draped across his body. Marion and a co-worker moved into a lower portion of the building, where they found a fellow employee in an office who hadn't heard the crash. The group left through the back gate, Marion said.
"Everyone behaved really well," said Marion, the ABC affiliate's head of commercial production. "People of their own volition said, `It's time to leave the building.' No one panicked."
Brian Kuebler, an investigative reporter, said in a phone interview that he heard a commotion and walked into the lobby in time to see the truck's last three rams.
"I never even saw him. I just saw the truck," Kuebler said. "That's when it started to get pretty real. This guy was intent on getting into the building. It was pretty frightening."
When police arrived, they moved everyone back, he said.
"We have the news to do and we're sitting in the parking lot," he said. "It's a little weird. I've never been the story in my career."
A hole the size of several garage doors can be seen in the front of the two-story building, with a newsroom and studio on the first floor. About 120 people work there, according to station owner the E.W. Scripps Co. The building sits on a busy street connecting the suburbs with Baltimore, near the city-county line, and though parts of the road were blocked, drivers could still access an adjacent shopping center.
York Road was shut down for hours in the area but has since been reopened.
WMAR broadcast its regular programs while the station was evacuated.