WASHINGTON: To his friends, Neil E. Prescott was a “gentle giant” — a physically towering young man with a background in computers and electronics and a sarcastic, even biting, sense of humor that people close to him knew to shrug off as innocuous.
But police say they had no choice but to take it seriously when Prescott threatened to shoot up his workplace and referred to himself as “a joker,” comments that raised particular alarm in the wake of the mass shooting July 20 at a Colorado theater during the latest Batman movie. The man accused in the Colorado shootings dyed his hair reddish-orange, and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said the man called himself the Joker — a reference to Batman’s nemesis.
Prescott was taken into custody early Friday at his apartment in Maryland, where officers found several thousand rounds of ammunition and a cache of about two-dozen weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and pistols. He was receiving an emergency psychiatric evaluation at a hospital and had not been charged as of Saturday afternoon.
Two friends said Saturday that they couldn’t imagine that Prescott, who was in the process of being fired or already had lost 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.”
“Neil’s the kind of guy who had the ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and not mean anything by it. So to him, he thinks it’s funny. He’s kind of a joker,” said Wesley Weber, who said his friend, at 6 feet, 7 inches, was a “gentle giant” prone to bouts of exaggeration who “talked big but didn’t walk the walk.”
Prescott is “no stranger to sarcasm regardless of political correctness,” and is fond of T-shirts with sarcastic, provocative or even inflammatory remarks, said another friend Mike Cochran. When first approached by officers, police say, Prescott was wearing a shirt that said “Guns don’t kill people. I do.”
“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.
Friends say that over the years, Prescott had been interested in hobbies such as computers, electronics and ham radios. His clique of friends would gather several years ago at nighttime parties to play multi-player video games and consume the highly caffeinated Jolt cola, Weber recalled. A sometime disc jockey, he’d also spin house music at Baltimore nightclubs.
In recent years, though, he’d cultivated a passion for collecting firearms. He’d practice his shot at the training range, friends said, and communicate online with fellow gun enthusiasts about the ins and outs of firearm equipment and gun laws. At least some of the firearms recovered from his apartment in Crofton, near Annapolis, appear to have been acquired legally, authorities said.
Police say Prescott, an employee of a subcontractor for software and mailroom supplier Pitney Bowes, made the threats during two Monday morning phone conversations with a supervisor. The supervisor, who declined to comment Saturday, said the comments made him fear for his life and that he was aware of Prescott’s weapons’ cache.
Prescott 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, who paid an initial visit to Prescott’s apartment on Thursday before taking him into custody Friday morning.
Pitney Bowes spokeswoman Carol Wallace said Prescott had not been on any company property in at least four months. It wasn’t clear why he was losing his job.