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.
Prescott's apartment is about 20 minutes away from that office, on the third floor of a large complex midway between Baltimore and D.C. No one answered the door at his home or any surrounding apartments before a security team asked reporters to leave the property.
At a 7-Eleven store nearby, Cortae Savoy, 18, said he lived in the same apartment building as Prescott but didn't know him. The allegations were unsettling, he said.
"It's going to keep my eyes open, that's for sure," Savoy said. "You most definitely don't know what's up someone's sleeve."
Calls to a couple identified as Prescott's parents were not returned Friday, and no one answered the door at their Parkton home.
A former neighbor who said she lived next door to Prescott's boyhood home in Catonsville described him as a shy teen.
"He was always kind of quiet, I didn't really see him outside much," said Betty Conrades. She remembers that he used to get a lot of packages delivered.
Another former Catonsville neighbor, who lived across the street and asked that her name be withheld, said Prescott was an introvert who spent most of his time on the computer.
Both he and his sister were "very good kids," the woman said. "They were a very nice family."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
Timeline of events
Prince George's County police are contacted by a supervisor at Pitney Bowes, who tells officers that Neil Edwin Prescott said in telephone calls, "I am a joker. I'm going to load my guns and blow everybody up." Police say Prescott either had been fired or was in the the process of being fired from his job.
Anne Arundel County officers visit Prescott's Crofton apartment. He responds to their knock on his door by saying he has a gun. They tell him to put the weapon down and come out. They interview him.
Having decided that Prescott might pose a danger, Prince George's County police obtain a judge's signature on requests for a psychiatric evaluation and a search warrant for his apartment.
Friday, about 3 a.m.:
Officers, including a special operations team, return to Prescott's apartment. He comes out and is taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Among the items police found were:
An assault weapon
Nine handguns of various makes and calibers
A high-power rifle scope
A large cache of ammunition and a number of ammunition magazines
Source: Prince George's County Circuit Court