Police said it was the ominous mention of the Joker, the threat to use guns and “blow everybody up” and the lingering memory of the massacre in Colorado a week ago.
It was the “totality” of ominous signals, investigators said Friday, that made them believe that Neil Edwin Prescott of Crofton, Md., was serious when he threatened mass murder at the Prince George’s County business from which he was being fired.
“All of the elements were there to repeat what we’ve seen across the country,” Prince George’s Police Chief Mark Magaw said.
It was the first phone call, the second phone call, “the increasing tenor of the threat … the demeanor,” Deputy Chief Hank Stawinski said.
“The message here is if you call your business, if you call a loved one, if you call anybody and you threaten to do harm, kill people, we’re going to believe you,” he said.
Prescott remained at the Anne Arundel County Medical Center late Friday undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, as prosecutors weighed what charges, if any, to file against him.
As of Friday evening, he had not been arrested and had not been charged with a crime, police said.
But when police went to take him into custody early Friday, they evacuated part of his apartment building and moved in with a SWAT team, conflict negotiators and a search warrant.
Inside his third-level apartment in the 1600 block of Parkridge Circle, Prescott was detained without incident, and police said they found an arsenal of weapons — more than 20 rifles, shotguns and pistols, and 40 steel boxes containing eight different types of ammunition.
Authorities are considering a number of state and federal charges.
The state charges, though, would be relatively minor because Prescott “didn’t ultimately do anything except make the phone calls,” a law enforcement official said.
Other officials said agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are still probing the origin of Prescott’s weaponry, and he could face more serious federal gun charges if any turn out to be illegal. Police have determined that at least 13 were properly registered, Magaw said.
Police in Prince George’s, where Prescott had worked, and Anne Arundel County, where he lives, said they believed that a catastrophe had been averted.
“We can’t measure what was prevented here,” Magaw said. “But … we think a violent episode was avoided.”
According to police and investigative documents, Prescott had worked for a Capitol Heights, Md., branch of the government contracting company Pitney Bowes, but was in the process of being fired.
Pitney Bowes said Prescott was an employee of a subcontractor to the company. He has not been on any Pitney Bowes property in more than four months.
The events began at 8 a.m. Monday, when Prescott’s supervisor called Prescott about a job matter and, during the conversation, Prescott apparently said several times: “I am a joker. I’m gonna load my guns and blow everybody up,” according to the police affidavit for a search warrant.
Prescott also said he would like to see his boss’s brains splattered on the sidewalk, the affidavit said.
The boss hung up, but Prescott called him back 15 minutes later and repeated his threats, adding, “It’s kind of foolish for me to say this kind of things over a government phone,” according to the affidavit.
Prescott had already been fired, according to the affidavit, and the supervisor told police that he feared for his life.
Prince George’s police were informed of the situation Wednesday, took the threats seriously and launched an investigation, officials said.
Authorities wrote in the affidavit that they believed Prescott was referring to the movie-theater shootings in Colorado when he called himself a joker — a character in the Batman movie the theater was showing.
Twelve people were killed and 58 others wounded during that rampage.
The connection, Magaw said, “is fairly obvious, and that’s the way we took it.”
There was scant information available about Prescott on Friday. Police refused to identify him during an afternoon press conference at Prince George’s police headquarters, although he had been identified in the search warrant for his home.
Magaw said that neighbors interviewed by police found him to be unstable, as did detectives.
Some neighbors said Friday that they knew little about him. No one answered his front door, where a strip of black electrical tape covered the peep hole.
One neighbor, Melissa Michaels, said police officers jumped out of the bushes near her apartment complex when she arrived home at 2 a.m. Friday.
She wasn’t allowed to enter the building because a SWAT team was there. Her brother hadn’t responded to the police when they evacuated part of the building. She was told to call him and tell him to remain inside “no matter what he heard.”
Michaels said that she did not know Prescott but that she did notice something peculiar about him recently: “He would get a lot of packages.”
She said UPS would leave packages by the main mailbox and she remembers that “he had five in one day, which I thought was weird.” The five packages came about two weeks ago, Michaels said.
Anne Arundel Police Maj. Ed Bergen said police visited Prescott on Thursday at home.
They “met with him, talked with him, had a conversation with him, and that’s when officers were able to document what was on the T-shirt and what he was wearing,” Bergen said. His T-shirt had the logo, “Guns don’t kill people, I do,” Bergen and the affidavit said.
Police kept Prescott under surveillance while they planned the operation to take him into custody.
“We ramped it up based on the intelligence, the behavior that was gathered from the interview, the T-shirt,” Bergen said.