LOS ANGELES — To track Christopher Dorner, police from dozens of agencies chased tips across multiple states and into Mexico. But it appears he found a hiding place where searchers were thickest.
It is unclear how long Dorner, 33, was hunkered down in the cabin in the snowy mountains near Big Bear Lake. But the cabin was so close to the manhunt command post and to an adjacent media area that countless police and reporters would have fallen in his line of vision.
Questions abounded Wednesday, a day after Dorner apparently died in another cabin nearby during a police siege, about how he managed to evade capture at the center of the manhunt. Authorities are trying to confirm whether charred remains found in the cabin, which caught fire after police lobbed incendiary tear gas inside, belonged to Dorner.
Authorities declared the manhunt over Wednesday, and the Los Angeles Police Department resumed normal operations. Most of the protective details were called off the 50 or so families that were threatened in an online manifesto police say Dorner wrote. Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer embittered by his firing, killed the daughter of a retired LAPD captain, her fiancé and two law officers during a rampage that began in Irvine, police say.
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On Feb. 7, authorities found the smoking wreckage of Dorner’s Nissan Titan in the Big Bear area, triggering a massive search. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials said the search included more than 600 cabins over eight square miles in the Big Bear area. But Jeanne Kelly, who lives blocks from where Dorner was apparently holed up, said searchers never knocked on her door. “I think if they searched every house, they probably would’ve found him,” said Kelly, 61.
At a news conference Wednesday, sheriff’s officials defended the search. They said deputies checked the general area extensively and said they did not identify signs of forced entry at that particular cabin.
Officials said the cabin was last rented Feb. 6, a day before Dorner’s truck was found burning nearby.
The mayhem began Feb. 3, when Monica Quan, daughter of a retired LAPD captain, and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, were found shot to death in an Irvine parking garage. Police soon found a Facebook manifesto believed to be Dorner’s, which vowed “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” against police and their families for what he called his unfair firing from the LAPD. On Feb. 7, after apparently trying to steal a boat in San Diego’s Point Loma, he opened fire on two Riverside officers, killing one, Michael Crain, whose funeral was held Wednesday.
Then police found Dorner’s burning pickup and converged on the Big Bear area.
On Tuesday, Jim and Karen Reynolds entered their cabin on Club View Drive and found Dorner inside. They said he tied them up and stole their purple Nissan. Earlier reports indicated two housecleaners discovered Dorner in the cabin. While evading law-enforcement officers, he crashed the Nissan. He then carjacked Rick Heltebrake, a ranger at a local Boy Scout camp, who was driving by in his pickup. Dorner aimed a rifle at him. “I don’t want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog,” Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying. Heltebrake, with his Dalmatian in tow, called police.
Authorities chased Dorner into a nearby cabin amid a massive gunbattle. A San Bernardino County deputy was killed and another seriously injured. Law-enforcement officers lobbed conventional tear gas into the cabin, but when Dorner failed to emerge they used CS gas canisters, a more intense weapon known to start fires, and sent in a demolition vehicle. The cabin burned down.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said deputies did not purposely burn down the cabin. He said they deployed the gas canister after they were left with no other options. “I can tell you it was not on purpose,” he said.