By Alice Popovici
PALMER PARK, Maryland (Reuters) - Maryland police thwarted a "violent episode" by a man who called himself a "joker" in an apparent reference to last week's Colorado movie theater massacre and threatened to use an arsenal of firearms against his former co-workers, police said Friday.
The announcement by Prince George's County Police came a week after a man wearing full body armor and toting three guns opened fire on a midnight screening of the latest "Batman" film in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others.
Neil Edwin Prescott, of Crofton, Maryland, was taken into custody on Friday morning after a predawn search of his home found a cache of 16 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, Prince George's County Police chief Mark Magaw said.
Prescott has not been arrested, but is being held under emergency petition, Magaw told a news conference on Friday. He is in the Anne Arundal Medical Center in Annapolis undergoing a court ordered mental evaluation.
"We can't measure what was prevented here," Magaw said.
An employee at Prescott's former workplace, software and mailroom supplier Pitney Bowes Inc. in Capitol Heights, Md., called police on Monday to report a phone call from Prescott.
In that call, Prescott threatened the worker's life and the lives of other employees, Magaw said. Prescott had been previously terminated from his job in an unrelated incident.
"I am a joker, I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up," Prescott is alleged to have told his former co-worker, according to a search warrant issued to the county police.
In their application for the warrant, police said they were concerned by Prescott's apparent allusion to the July 20 massacre in Colorado.
"It is clear that the comments made by Prescott reference a recent mass murder which occurred in Colorado within the last several days in which the alleged shooter called himself the Joker, died his hair red and shot up a movie theater," the search warrant application said.
The man accused of that shooting, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, is being held in solitary confinement in a suburban Denver jail awaiting the filing of formal charges, which is expected to occur on Monday.
In response to the call from Prescott's former co-worker, police contacted Prescott on Thursday, Deputy Chief Hank Stawinski said. Prescott answered his door wearing a shirt bearing the words: "Guns don't kill people, I do."
The search warrant was subsequently issued by a Prince George's County judge.
That search, at 3:20 a.m. Friday, uncovered 16 firearms and several thousand rounds of ammunition, according to an inventory of items seized. The weapons included semi-automatic assault rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic handguns.
(Reporting by Joseph O'Leary and Alice Popovici; editing by Todd Eastham)