Dorner case: 'We believe the investigation is over,' sheriff says
Although San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said he could not "absolutely, positively confirm" the body found in the charred rubble of a cabin was that of Christopher Dorner, he stressed that the manhunt for the fugitive former LAPD officer had been called off.
"We believe the investigation is over at this point," McMahon said at a news conference Wednesday.
Coroner's officials have yet to positively identify the body found in the Big Bear area cabin after a man thought to be Dorner engaged in an intense gun battle with officers. The cabin later caught fire and burned to its foundation.
McMahon denied speculation that officers intentionally set the fire, saying officers first used traditional tear gas to flush the man out. When that didn't work, they opted to use CS gas canisters, which are known in law enforcement parlance as incendiary tear gas. These canisters, filled with more potent gas, have a significantly greater chance of starting a fire.
"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin," McMahon said.
Tuesday brought an end to a massive, days-long search for the wanted ex-police officer, sought in a series of killings that began Feb. 3 with the death of a newly engaged Irvine couple: Monica Quan, a Cal State Fullerton assistant basketball coach, and Keith Lawrence, a USC public safety officer.
Quan was the daughter of the retired LAPD official who represented Dorner at his disciplinary hearing. According to a manifesto that officials say Dorner posted on Facebook, he felt the LAPD unjustly fired him after that hearing several years ago, when a disciplinary panel determined that he lied in accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally ill man during an arrest.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has promised to review the case.
While on the run Thursday, Dorner allegedly shot three police officers in Riverside County. Riverside Officer Michael Crain, 34, a married father of two, was killed. He was laid to rest Wednesday.
The search for Dorner — which triggered statewide alerts in California and Nevada, and stretched across the Mexican border — centered on Big Bear on Thursday when Dorner's burning truck was found on a forest road.
Hundreds of officers swarmed the area, conducting cabin-by-cabin checks for any sign of the wanted man. But no fresh leads surfaced, and the search effort was scaled back Sunday.
But Dorner apparently resurfaced Tuesday morning, when two cleaning workers discovered him inside a Big Bear condo not far from where authorities had been holding news conferences about the manhunt. He allegedly tied them up, stole a Nissan and took off. About 12:20 p.m., one of the women broke free and called police.
Nearly half an hour later, officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted the stolen vehicle and called for backup, authorities said. The suspect turned down a side road in an attempt to elude the officers but crashed the vehicle, police said.
A short time later, authorities said, the suspect carjacked a light-colored pickup truck from a local camp ranger. That man, Rick Heltebrake, said he noticed something moving in the trees as he drove down Glass Road. It was a person with a gun dressed in camouflage and a ballistics vest, with pockets that were full.
“He was ready for action,” Heltebrake said. “Right away I knew it was Mr. Dorner.”
And behind the man alleged to be Dorner was a wrecked vehicle.
“He came at me with his gun leveled at my head,” Heltebrake said. “I stopped, put my truck in park, raised my hands, and he said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. Just get out, start walking up the road and take your dog.’ I said, ‘Can I get her leash?' He said, ‘No, just start walking.'"
Heltebrake grabbed his Dalmatian and took off.
About 10 seconds later, he said, he heard a volley of gunfire — about 10 to 20 shots. The man had carjacked Heltebrake’s vehicle and started driving on Glass Road toward Highway 38. There, the man believed to be Dorner encountered two Fish and Wildlife wardens and allegedly fired at one of their vehicles. Wardens returned fire, authorities said.
The suspect abandoned the vehicle and took off on foot, police said. He eventually holed up in a wooden cabin not far from the community of Seven Oaks.
Officers once again descended upon the area, and a gun battle between the suspect and officers ensued. Sources described an intense firefight, with hundreds of shots fired.
"It was like a war zone, and our deputies continued to go in that area," McMahon said at Wednesday's news conference. "Our deputies are true heroes."
Two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were struck, one of whom was killed.
That deputy was identified as Jeremiah MacKay, 35, based out of Yucaipa. He was married and had two children, according to his Facebook page.
Authorities eventually smashed the cabin's windows, pumped in tear gas and called for the suspect to surrender, officials said. They got no response. Then, using a demolition vehicle, they tore down the cabin's walls one by one. When they reached the last wall, they heard a gunshot. Then the cabin burst into flames, officials said.
Though many in Big Bear felt at ease after Tuesday, others expressed bittersweet feelings.
“We are relieved, freed of the sense of being a community that is not safe because there is a cop killer hiding in our little mountain town," said Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte. "But there is also a great sense of anguish. It’s sobering to think of the sacrifices that deputies made in the defense of our community.”
— Phil Willon, Ruben Vives and Louis Sahagun in Big Bear, and Andrew Blankstein, Kate Mather and Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles