Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gunman was former Lahaina resident

Yikes...I thought I recognized him.

Discovery Channel gunman was former Lahaina resident
James J. Lee, 43, was a 1985 Lahainaluna High School graduate

Lahainaluna classmates remembered James J. Lee as a talented artist, comic-book fan and something of an outsider who was picked on in school.

Lee was identified Wednesday as the man who held two Discovery Communications employees and a security guard hostage in a four-hour standoff in Silver Springs, Md., outside Washington, D.C. Tactical officers shot and killed Lee when building security cameras showed him pulling out a handgun and pointing it at a hostage, said Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger. An explosive device on the gunman's body detonated when police shot him, he said.

The tragedy was felt keenly by Patrick Ross, the Lahainaluna Class of 1985 senior class president, who remembered Lee was the victim of bullying in high school.

"I'd like it to be known that he was a victim of being picked on," Ross said. "Picking on others can have serious consequences."

A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing told The Associated Press that authorities had identified Lee as the likely suspect.

NBC News reported that after its producers called the Discovery Channel's general number, a man identifying himself as James J. Lee got on the phone and said he had a gun and several bombs.

His MySpace page said he was 43 years old, and he listed Hawaii as his hometown.

The Maui News received calls from residents Wednesday saying that they knew the hostage-taker as a former Lahaina resident.

"When I saw his face and I saw his age, I immediately thought it was him," Ross said.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Lee was given ownership of a 12.5 percent stake in a Lahaina residence in 2003 through a family trust, and that he sold his interest in 2007 for $90,000.

In 2008, Lee was arrested after throwing thousands of dollars into the air outside the same Discovery Channel building. At a court hearing, he said that he had sold several inherited properties on Maui to pay for the protest and had one property left, worth about $200,000, according to a 2008 report in the Gazette.Net Maryland Community Newspapers Online. The report said he was planning to give the property away in a "save the planet contest."

Information about Lee's family on Maui was sketchy. Classmates and school administrators interviewed said he had a brother and two sisters and was raised by a single mother who died about 10 years ago. Their family home on Wahikuli Road was sold shortly thereafter.

After consulting with his classmates, lawyer Walter Vierra said they believed that Lee's family used to run a sushi deli in Lahaina at a location that is now occupied by a surfing school. They later moved away from the island, he said.

Several Lahainaluna classmates contacted Wednesday said they had lost touch with Lee after high school. With only 140 students in the Lahainaluna Class of 1985, many were like Vierra, saying they "knew of him."

"I was in the band with him," Vierra recalled.

Henry Ariyoshi, who was principal at Lahainaluna during Lee's time at the school, saw him from time to time around campus.

"I didn't see (in him) anyone who was . . . weird," he said in a phone interview, noting that it has been a long time since he had seen Lee. "As far as I'm concerned, he was a good kid."

Allan Almeida, who was Lee's classmate at Kamehameha III Elementary School, said: "He was always cool.

"He wasn't, like, strange . . . or a bully."

In fact, Lee was victimized by bullies, said Ross, who is now an executive recruiter in Los Angeles.

Ross recalled an incident during freshman year in the band room when a football player threatened to beat Lee up. He ran under the band room stage, chased by the bully, who was lifting up panels that made up the stage in an effort to catch him.

"It was humiliating," Ross said.

As senior class president, Ross gave Lee - "a good artist" - the task of designing the class poster for a homecoming contest.

"It was artistic and beautiful to some eyes, but was comic-booky," he recalled.

Lee's poster bearing the theme "Luna Juggernaut" placed second - disappointing the entire senior class.

"He was so ridiculed," Ross recalled.

He didn't know why Lee was picked on but noted that "he was unusual, off-centered."

"He often spoke as if he was in a comic book," Ross continued. "But that made him an extraordinary artist."

Ross and others interviewed said that Lee showed no signs of violence as a youth. In fact, Ross is not sure that Lee would have been able to take someone's life.

"Either way, it's all messed up," said Ross. "I'm not sure he was the type that could take it to that level."

He had not seen Lee since high school and his efforts to contact him in 2005 for the class's 20-year reunion were unsuccessful.

In the Lahainaluna yearbook in 1985, in the senior scrolls section, Lee wrote:

" 'The power is mine, mine is the power, nothing can stop me now.' 'Rock' plans to become a full-time cartoonist and/or go to college. Likes: Comic books, nice people, drawing. Dislikes: Snobs, selfish and self-righteous people. Remembers: His own comic books, Spiderman, Warlock and Metamorphis Odessy comics."

* The Associated Press contributed to this story. Lee Imada can be reached at