A Crofton man who owned a cache of weapons repeatedly threatened to "blow everybody up" at his former workplace and declared himself a "joker," police said, in what authorities believe is a reference to last week's mass killings during a midnight screening of"The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo.
Neil Edwin Prescott, 28, was taken into custody at his apartment early Friday and transferred to Anne Arundel Medical Center for an emergency psychiatric evaluation, Prince George's County police said. He has not been charged with a crime, and the investigation is continuing.
Police said Saturday that Prescott has now been hospitalized, and could be there for a week. No charges are expected during the time he is being treated.
"I truly believe we saved people from being harmed," said Anne Arundel County police Chief James Teare Sr.
Officers said they found two dozen firearms — including shotguns, a tactical rifle and handguns — along with accessories and several thousand rounds of ammunition at Prescott's apartment on the 1600 block of Parkridge Circle during a search Friday. He had registered at least 13 of the guns, according to court documents. At an earlier visit, police said he had been wearing a T-shirt that read "Guns don't kill people, I do."
According to an application for the search warrant, Prescott called his former supervisor, Gary Crofoot, at mail services supplier Pitney Bowes in Capitol Heights on Monday and repeatedly said, "I am a joker. I'm going to load my guns."
He also said he wanted to "see the supervisor's brain splatter all over the sidewalk," the search warrant application says. Police confirmed that there was animosity between the two men but said the threat was directed toward "everybody."
Crofoot, who alerted police to the statements, declined to comment Friday when reached via cellphone.
The Batman allusion led police to fear a copycat killing modeled on the Aurora shooting, in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. The man accused in those shootings, James Holmes, had his hair dyed reddish-orange and called himself the Joker, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said.
"In light of what's recently happened, it's fairly obvious and that's how we took it," Prince George's County police Chief Mark Magaw said during a news conference Friday.
"We can't measure what was prevented here," he said, but added that a "violent episode" was likely avoided.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks praised the cooperation among authorities.
"Law enforcement is all about preventing loss of life," she said in a statement. "Today's efforts are an example of the many ways we work collectively to keep our citizens safe."
Prescott has no criminal record in Maryland, according to an online court database. His only infraction was a traffic stop in 2007. He was accused of driving a 2001 Volkswagen at a speed of 42 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone on Crofton Parkway and given probation before judgment. He was described as being 6 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 270 pounds at the time.
Research shows that many atypical violent crimes covered extensively by the media attract copycats, said Dr. James McGee, retired chief of psychology at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital and former chief psychologist of the Baltimore County Police Department.
"There are a lot of people out there who are thinking about doing something," said McGee, who is not involved in the Crofton case.
When police first went to Prescott's home Thursday, he told them — through a closed door — that he had a firearm, according to police. Police said they instructed him to drop his weapon and come out, which he did, wearing the gun T-shirt. Based on his appearance and conversations with him, police said, they sought approval for the emergency evaluation and the search warrant, which they executed the next day.
Prescott had either recently been fired from his position working for a Pitney Bowes subcontractor or was in the process of being fired, according to police records.
Pitney Bowes spokeswoman Carol Wallace said in an emailed statement that Prescott had not been on company property for more than four months. He had raised alarms at the company before, she wrote.
"We have clear security protocol, and when we had concerns about this individual, we contacted authorities," Wallace wrote. She declined to answer questions, and employees at the Capitol Heights location refused to discuss Prescott or his alleged threats.