Kate Ryan, wtop.com
ROCKVILLE, Md. – Officer Ed Paden was fresh off a training swim in the Chesapeake Bay when the jellyfish stings were getting to him. So he finished his workout and headed back to Montgomery County, and though he was off-duty, he headed back to his station.
That’s when the 911 call came in on Sept. 1, 2010: A gunman — reportedly with explosives strapped to his body — had taken three hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring.
Paden worked the Silver Spring district and knew the Discovery building well. He sped to the scene — still in shorts, a T-shirt and those funny little rubber shoes that triathletes wear.
The scene initially was chaotic, remembers Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger.
“Here’s this guy in shorts and a T-shirt, running into the building … carrying a rifle!” Manger said at a ceremony Monday honoring Paden for his bravery. “There was some discussion: ‘Was there a second gunman?’ Well it was folks that actually saw Ed.”
Paden was first inside the building. He positioned himself in a way that would limit the gunman’s ability to get deeper inside the facility. On the chilling recordings of police communications, Paden begins reporting everything he sees: He’s less than 100 feet from gunman James J. Lee, who has three hostages on the ground.
“I am directly behind the suspect — behind a wall — I have visual of his apparatus,” Paden reports in hushed tones. He describes in detail the canisters Lee had strapped to his body. “Looks like two canisters on the outside … flashing light in his left hand … almost like a death grip … uh, red, luminous light … same thing on his front, strapped around his waist.”
Paden would keep up his narration until he was relieved by members of the SWAT team. All the while, he kept relaying intelligence, not knowing what the gunman — who was berating the hostages and waving a gun around — might do next, or whether those canisters really were live explosives.
At Monday’s ceremony — held at the police department’s Public Service Training Academy in Rockville — Paden was awarded the Congressional Badge of Bravery for his fast action and calm intelligence gathering. Manger couldn’t help noting that Paden managed to respond with courage and calm despite the fact that those jellyfish stings were beginning to swell up something awful.
“If for no other reason, that alone ought to get you some sort of recognition,” Manger joked. Then becoming serious, he noted the situation was the first time a police department was called to respond to a suicide bomber who had taken a hostage.
Lee eventually was shot and killed by the SWAT team after hours of negotiations failed.
Officials — including U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein, Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett — attended the ceremony, as did one of the hostages, Tom Fisher.
Fisher initially declined to talk to reporters, saying, “This is Officer Paden’s day.”
“I just want to show local law enforcement that I’m appreciative of everything they did for myself and the other two hostages at Discovery that day,” he said.
When asked to speak to the crowd gathered for the ceremony, Paden was modest about his actions.
“I am honored to accept this award as a Montgomery County police officer, showing the citizens of Montgomery County what our department is made of every day of the week,” he said, also crediting everyone who dealt with the situation that day in September: “Team: We put it all together, for one day, when it really counted.”
He said getting the reports over the radio transmissions was chilling, and encountering the gunman was more so. But, he added, “Muscle memory and training took over.”
David Leavy, with Discovery Communications, also recalled that day. He remembered the evacuation of staffers, and babies in daycare being rolled across the street in cribs on wheels.
Looking over to where the police officers were seated for the ceremony, he noted that it may seem cynicism has taken over the way public officials are viewed.
“Folks may ask, ‘Where are the heroes? Where are the leaders?’ — I think I have the answer,” he said, gesturing to the officers. “They’re right over there. So on behalf of all the 5,000 worldwide Discovery employees, thank you Officer Paden, thank you so much.
“Thank you all for keeping us safe that day.”
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)