A man pointed what appeared to be a handgun at KNBC-TV consumer reporter David Horowitz during a live broadcast Wednesday afternoon and demanded that he read a rambling statement on the air about the CIA and space aliens.
But the weapon turned out to be a plastic toy, no one was injured, and the program went off the air before the statement could be broadcast.
The intruder was taken into custody a few minutes later.
Thousands of viewers, however, witnessed the drama as the man, later identified as Gary Stollman, 34, of Tallahassee, Fla., son of former KNBC pharmaceutical reporter Max Stollman, walked up behind Horowitz and handed him the statement.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Horowitz said calmly, taking out his spectacles and putting them on, "there's a man here who wants me to read a statement. Could we get your name, sir. . .And, Gary, where are you from?"
But Horowitz said later he was anything but calm.
"The guy came up and put a gun in my back," he said. "My first reaction was 'I can't believe this is happening.' His first words to me were, 'Read this or I'll shoot you!' People later told me how calm I looked, but believe me, I wasn't!"
KNBC News Director Tom Capra ordered the program cut off the air.
"The guy came on at 4:42 p.m.," Capra said, "and 28 seconds later we went to black. . . . We cannot allow people with guns or weapons of any kind to take a television station hostage."
Capra said the station was entirely off the air for several seconds, and then began broadcasting the NBC logo along with a voice-over message asking viewers to stand by because of technical difficulties.
About a minute later, Capra said, the station began broadcasting promotions for its evening programming. And after a little more than seven minutes, the news broadcast returned--with an explanation of what had happened.
Kirstie Wilde, co-anchor of the 4 p.m. news broadcast, said Stollman had been able to bypass security at the station by exploiting his father's former position with KNBC.
"He scoped the studio out before." she said. "He came last Thursday and called me to get in. He said he was Max Stollman's son and he lives in the East and he never had the opportunity to see his dad while he was on our air and could he come down and watch.
"I felt kind of bad because Max's contract was terminated and he hadn't had a chance to see him, so I said come on down. . . . "
A station spokesman said it is not unusual to have guests in the studio during a broadcast, and no one objected to the younger Stollman's presence.
"He seemed a little unstable," Wilde said, "or maybe not very bright. He said maybe he could come back sometime and I said that would probably be OK. He called again today (Wednesday) and I got Tom Capra's OK for him to come."
"We all saw him," co-anchor John Beard said. "He was sitting in a chair in the back of the studio. He had a pass. Nobody noticed anything out of the ordinary."
Horowitz said the first paragraph of the statement, which was handwritten on several sheets of yellow legal paper, was enough to tell him that his captor was a lunatic. It began:
"The man who has appeared on KNBC for the past three years is not my biological father. He is a clone, a double created by the Central Intelligence Agency and alien forces. It is only a small part of a greater plot, to overthrow the United States government, and possibly the human race itself."
It went on to complain of mistreatment in "CIA-run mental hospitals" and demanded release of "secret Air Force files concerning UFOs."
Horowitz said he frequently had difficulty deciphering the writing. "I kept thinking of my wife and kids," he said. "I didn't know if the guy was a terrorist or a whacko or somebody trying to get even for something."
"My fear," he said, "was that if any police came into the studio, and there was a marksman there and he fired at this guy, I might be caught in the cross-fire or this guy might pop a shot off and get me through the back of the head or whatever because I was not aware of the fact that this guy had a toy gun."
Wilde and Beard were wearing earplug receivers and were aware that police and security officers were nearby and ready to pounce, but Horowitz was not connected with the control booth and could not be told.
Monitors within sight of the gunman clearly indicated that the program had gone off the air, but Stollman did not seem to notice, and kept asking "Am I on the air? Am I?"
When Horowitz had read the last line of the statement, however, Stollman said: "Thank you, David. I couldn't have harmed anyone with this unloaded BB gun."
He put the pistol down on the table, co-anchor Beard grabbed it, and police swarmed in to make the arrest.
Burbank Police Sgt. Joe Latta said Gary Stollman was booked on suspicion of threatening a crime with the intent of sowing terror and disrupting public activities, a felony. No bail was set, and Stollman was sent to County Jail to await arraignment.
Latta said the weapon was a plastic replica of a .45-caliber pistol and contained a spring arrangement that would cause it to fire small plastic pellets that would travel about 10 feet.
"You can't call it a pellet gun, even," he said. "It's just for children."
Max Stollman later confirmed that the intruder was his son, and issued a statement in which he said: "I do have a sick son. He has been hospitalized a number of times. I'm thankful he wasn't killed."
Besides his work as consumer reporter for KNBC-TV, Horowitz has earned a national reputation with his syndicated program "Fight Back! With David Horowitz."
A native of New York, Horowitz entered broadcast journalism as a writer for "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" at NBC News in New York, and in 1963 he became one of the network's first correspondents to report from Vietnam.
Horowitz resides in West Los Angeles with his family.