Christopher Dorner, the fugitive ex-cop who authorities believe died in a fiery standoff with police Tuesday night, was apparently holed up in a snow-covered cabin in the California mountains just steps from where police had set up a command post and held press conferences during a five-day manhunt.
The charred remains of a body believed to be Dorner was removed from another cabin, high in the San Bernadino Mountains near Big Bear, Calif., the site of Dorner’s last stand. Cornered inside the mountain cabin, the suspect shot at cops, killing one deputy and wounding another, before the building was consumed by flames.
Police are working to officially identify the body, but “have reason to believe that it is him,” said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman.
The manhunt for Dorner, 33, one of the biggest in recent memory, led police to follow clues across the West and into Mexico, but it ended just miles from where Dorner’s trail went cold last week.
Residents of the area were relieved today that after a week of heightened police presence and fear that Dorner was likely dead.
“I’m glad no one else can get hurt and they caught him. I’m happy they caught the bad guy,” said Ashley King, a waitress in the nearby town of Angelus Oaks, Calif.
Hundreds of cops scoured the mountains near Big Bear, a resort area in Southern California, since last Thursday using bloodhounds and thermal-imaging technology mounted to helicopters, in the search for Dorner. The former police officer and Navy marksman was being hunted as the suspect who had killed a cop and cop’s daughter and had issued a “manifesto” declaring he was bent on revenge and pledged to kill dozens of LAPD cops and their family members.
But it now appears that Dorner never left the area, and may have hid out in an unoccupied cabin just steps from where cops had set up a command center.
It was at the cabin Tuesday morning where two women arrived to find a man matching Dorner’s description inside. He took the women hostage, tying them up and stealing their car. At 12:20 p.m. PT, one of the woman broke free and called police.
Dorner crashed that car and hijacked a pickup truck as officials from the state Fish and Game Department pursued him.
“I saw some movement in the trees and it was Christopher Dorner and he came out onto the road, out of the snow, and he was dressed in all camouflage and had a big assault, sniper-type rifle and he had a vest on, like a ballistics vest,” Rick Heltebrake, the pickup’s driver, told ABC News.
“He was dressed up to do some damage it looked like. He said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. Just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog with you,’” Heltebrake said.
Dorner then took off into the woods on foot, where sheriff’s deputies pursued him to a rental cabin in which he barricaded himself and began firing.
Two deputies were wounded in the firefight and airlifted to a nearby hospital, where one died, police said. The second deputy received non-life threatening injuries, police said.
Some local television stations broadcast police scanner traffic of the firefight, punctuated by the sound of automatic gunfire.
“It was horrifying to listen to that firefight and to hear those words. ‘Officer down’ is the most gut-wrenching experience that you can have as a police officer,” said LAPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Neiman.
Over the course of the next five hours, heavily armed SWAT teams with tank-like vehicles surrounded the cabin, even firing tear gas inside, but never entered the building.
Cops said they heard a single gunshot go off from inside the cabin just as they began to see smoke and fire. Later they heard the sound of more gunshots, the sound of ammunition being ignited by the heat of the blaze, law enforcement officials said.
Dorner is accused of killing four people, including the deputy shot on Tuesday. Last Thursday he allegedly gunned down Riverside police officer Michael Crain, who was laid to rest today.
Crain’s shooting and the discovery of an online manifesto pledging to kill dozens of cops launched the dragnet.Dorner is also suspected of killing Monica Quan and her fiance, who were found shot to death Feb. 3. Quan was the daughter of former LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, who was mentioned as a target of Dorner’s fury in the manifesto.
In the 6,000 word “manifesto,” Dorner outlined his anger at the Los Angeles Police Department for firing him, and made threats against individuals he believed were responsible for ending his career with the police force five years ago. Dorner’s grievance with police goes back five years, to when he was fired after filing what the LAPD determined to be a false report accusing other cops of brutality.
The LAPD assigned 50 protection details to guard officers and their families who were deemed possible targets. The LAPD said today they would maintain the details, until Dorner’s body was positively identified.