WASHINGTON (AP) - A Maryland man accused of threatening to shoot up his workplace and who police say called himself "a joker" is a "gentle giant" who collected firearms for target practice and had expressed concerns about someone breaking into his apartment, a friend said Saturday.
Mike Cochran told The Associated Press in an email that Neil E. Prescott, accused of threatening a mass workplace shooting earlier in the week, had an active sense of humor.
Cochran said his friend was "no stranger to sarcasm regardless of political correctness" and was fond of T-shirts with sarcastic or inflammatory comments. When first approached by officers, police say Prescott was wearing a shirt that said, "Guns don't kill people. I do."
Cochran said he couldn't imagine that Prescott, 28, who police say was in the process of being fired from his job, intended to be taken seriously when he allegedly told a supervisor: "I'm a joker and I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up."
"The Neil I know made those comments sarcastically in an environment where he felt he could make them without being taken seriously," Cochran said in an email.
Prescott was taken into custody at his apartment in Crofton, near Annapolis, on Friday morning for an emergency psychiatric evaluation. No charges, either state or federal, had been brought against him of Saturday. Police found a cache of about two dozen weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and pistols, and several thousand rounds of ammunition. At least some of the firearms were legally acquired, authorities say.
It wasn't immediately clear if or when the threat was to be carried out, but last week's mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater during the latest Batman movie - coupled with the "joker" reference - put police on edge and gave the comments extra urgency.
"We can't measure what was prevented here, but what was going on over the last 36 hours was a significant incident in the county. And we think a violent episode was avoided," county police Chief Mark Magaw said Friday.
Prescott is a physically imposing man - online court records for a 2007 speeding ticket list him as 6 feet 7 inches and 270 pounds. He was an avid firearms collector who also had an interest in electronics and computers and was known to spin house records as a disc jockey at Baltimore nightclubs, Cochran said.
A search for Neil Prescott on a website that tracks users' online activities led to a profile that appears to be him on mdshooters.com, a website for state gun enthusiasts. On it, he appears to trade advice about acquiring firearms and at times conveyed concern about break-ins near his apartment.
Cochran, who also posts on the site, said he received one message from Prescott last November that said: "Might be sleeping in tomorrow, just had a suspicious male at my door. Notified PD but am gonna be lookin out tonight. Some crazy breakins near me recently."
Prescott was an employee of a subcontractor for software and mailroom supplier Pitney Bowes. Police say he was either in the process of being fired or had already lost his job when he made the threats during two separate phone calls with a supervisor on Monday morning.
The supervisor said the comments made him fear for his life, and he declined to comment Saturday to a reporter who showed up at his house.
He at one point said he wished to see his supervisor's "brain splatter all over the sidewalk," but also acknowledged that he shouldn't be saying such things over the phone, according to an application in support of a search warrant. The threats were then reported to the police.
Cochran said he's known Prescott since 2001, when they were colleagues at a technical support outsourcing company. He said he was a network engineer.
"With his skill set and education he would have had no problems finding other work with good pay. Neil did not at any point indicate to me that he had problems with where he was working," Cochran wrote.
Pitney Bowes spokeswoman Carol Wallace said Prescott had not been on any Pitney Bowes property in at least four months.