Police in Southern California were cautiously attempting to move a weeklong manhunt to its finish early Wednesday after dramatic events resulted in the death of a sheriff’s deputy and possibly that of a former officer Christopher Jordan Dorner, who went rogue after blaming his former LAPD colleagues for ruining his career.
Officials confirmed late Tuesday that the charred remains of a body were found in a cabin in Bear Lake, Calif., that had been set on fire earlier that day. Police told the Associated Press that a wallet with Dorner’s California driver’s license was found in the cabin’s rubble.
“We have reason to believe it is him,” San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said. The sheriff’s department coroner issued a news release saying the body will be identified through forensic means.
If the corpse is positively identified as Dorner, 33, who is suspected in the murders of an Irving couple, a Riverside police officer and also the shooting of his patrol partner, it would end a saga worthy of a Hollywood screenplay.
Tuesday’s drama began to unfold shortly after noon when an unidentified woman called 911 to tell police that she and another person had been tied up by someone fitting Dorner’s description, San Bernadino County sheriff’s officials say. The former LAPD harbor patrolman and ex-Naval reservist had been holed up for several days in an apartment complex in the woods near a ski resort at Big Bear, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. Police on Friday discovered a burned out truck registered to his name in a forest clearing.
The victims who had been tied up were found unharmed, but their SUV had been stolen. Hours later, the vehicle crashed about 30 miles from that site, at which time a man in charge of a Boy Scout camp says Dorner carjacked him.
“I was heading back up the road…and right about that point Christopher Dorner came out of the snow, out of the trees,” Rick Heltebrake told NBC‘s Today show. “I saw him right away, I saw a vehicle that was crashed behind him in the snow. He came up to me with his gun pointed at me and I stopped my truck, put it in park, raised my hands. He said ‘I don’t want to hurt you, just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog,’ which is what I did.”
Heltebrake said he couldn’t tell if Dorner had other arms on him, but was dressed in camouflage and battle fatigues. At about 12:45 p.m., a California Department of Fish and Wildlife warden spotted the stolen truck and the driver fired at him. The warden returned fire, but it is unclear if he struck the truck or the driver.
The truck was left in a gully a few miles away. The driver, who police now believe was Dorner, set off on foot, dropping smoke bombs as he ran. Once he arrived at an abandoned cabin near Angelus Oaks, he barricaded himself inside. Soon after, a barrage of gunfire was heard coming from the scene between sheriff’s deputies and the suspect.
“We have a suspect holed up in the cabin and we’re exchanging gunfire,” a sheriff’s official was heard saying over a police radio dispatch. At 1:30 p.m., another announced that officers had been shot and that police were waiting for helicopters to evacuate them. San Bernadino Sheriff John McMahon told reporters that the deputies were airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center, where one was pronounced dead at 2:24 p.m. A second deputy underwent surgery and came out early Wednesday. He is expected to recover from his injuries.
At about 4 p.m., a single gunshot was heard coming from the cabin. Shortly afterward, the structure was set on fire. Rather than storming the cabin or calling firefighters to put it out, police let it burn.
Reports had initially surfaced that Dorner’s body had been found inside the cabin and identified, but they turned out to be unconfirmed. The charred body and the wallet were found early Wednesday by sheriff’s deputies.
The hunt for Dorner started Feb. 3, after he became the suspect in shooting death of Monica Quan and her fiancee Keith Lawrence. Quan, an assistant basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton, was the daughter of Randy Quan, a former Los Angeles police captain who represented Dormer in the hearings that resulted in his dismissal from the LAPD in 2008. Dorner wrote in a lengthy online ‘manifesto’ posted to his Facebook page that he was railroaded out of his job after reporting a training officer for brutality. Dormer said he wanted revenge against those he felt were responsible and their families, including Quan.
Two Riverside, Calif., officers on routine patrol encountered Dorner on Feb. 7. He fired at both of them in an ambush, killing Officer Michael Crain, 34, and wounding the other officer. The shooting launched a manhunt that involved dozens of law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California. Police mistakenly fired on three people during their search, wounding two.
After a failed attempt to steal a boat to escape to Mexico, Dorner seemingly disappeared. A $1 million reward was offered for information leading to his capture and authorities received more than 1,000 tips. Police were led to the Big Bear area when they found Dorner’s burned out pickup truck on Feb. 8, prompting 200 officers to search the area despite a looming snowstorm and plunging temperatures.
Police say they had hoped that Dorner would give himself up rather than cause further bloodshed. “Enough is enough, it’s time to turn yourself in,” said LAPD spokesman Andrew Smith said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck called the presumptive end to the story “bittersweet,” while being cautious to note that he will rest when the body is positively identified as Dorner. ”This could have ended much better, it could have ended worse,” Beck told the Los Angeles Times. “I feel for the family of the deputy who lost his life.”
Meanwhile, funeral services were set to continue as planned for Crain. Gov. Jerry Brown was expected to be in attendance. The name of the San Bernadino sheriff’s deputies who were shot, including the fatality, were not released.