BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. – Police scoured mountain peaks for days, using everything from bloodhounds to high-tech helicopters in their manhunt for a revenge-seeking ex-cop.
They had no idea he was hiding among them, possibly holed up in a vacation cabin across the street from their command post.
It was there that Christopher Dorner may have taken refuge last Thursday, four days after beginning a deadly rampage that would claim four lives.
The search ended Tuesday when a man believed to be Dorner bolted from hiding, stole two cars, barricaded himself in another vacant cabin miles away and mounted a last stand in a furious shootout in which he killed one sheriff’s deputy and wounded another before the building erupted in flames.
He never emerged from the ruins, and hours later a charred body was found in the basement of the burned cabin along with a wallet and personal items, including a California driver’s license with the name Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
The coroner’s office is studying the remains to positively determine the identity.
LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman said Wednesday the department had returned to normal patrol operations, and about a dozen of the more than 50 protective details guarding possible Dorner targets will remain in place until the remains are positively identified.
“This really is not a celebration,” he said.
Neiman would not answer any questions regarding what occurred in San Bernardino County, saying it was that jurisdiction’s investigation.
LAPD officers used the Internet to monitor radio chatter during the firefight.
“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,” Neiman said.
Dorner, 33, had said in a lengthy rant that police believe he posted on Facebook that he expected to die in one final, violent confrontation with police, and if it was he in the cabin that’s what happened.
The apparent end came in the same mountain range where his trail went cold six days earlier, when his burning pickup truck – with guns and camping gear inside – was abandoned with a broken axle on a fire road in San Bernardino National Forest near the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake.
His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil. Deputies searched door-to-door in the city of Big Bear Lake and then, despite a blinding snowstorm, SWAT teams focused on hundreds of vacant cabins in the forest outside of town.
With no sign of him and few leads, police offered a $1 million reward to bring him to justice and end a “reign of terror” that had more than 50 families of targeted Los Angeles police officers under round-the-clock protection after he threatened to bring “warfare” to the LAPD, officers and their kin.
Just a few hours after police announced Tuesday that they had fielded more than 1,000 tips with no sign of Dorner, word came that a man matching his description had tied up two people in a Big Bear Lake cabin, stole their car and fled. Authorities didn’t immediately give more details on the two people.
Jay Hylton told KABC-TV that they were two of his relatives, a mother and daughter pair of housekeepers, who weren’t hurt.
After the women surprised Dorner, he tied them up and fled in a purple Nissan, the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/XKkGt8) reported.
One maid eventually broke free and called 911, the newspaper said.
Game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who were part of the search detail spotted the Nissan that had been reported stolen going in the opposite direction and gave chase, department spokesman Lt. Patrick Foy said. The driver looked like Dorner.
They lost the car after it passed a school bus and turned onto a side road, but two other Fish and Wildlife patrols turned up the road a short time later, and were searching for the car when a white pickup truck sped erratically toward them in the Seven Oaks area, about 30 miles down Highway 38 from Big Bear Lake.
“He took a close look at the driver and realized it was the suspect,” Foy said.
Dorner, who allegedly stole the pickup truck at gunpoint after crashing the first car, rolled down a window and opened fire on the wardens, striking their truck more than a dozen times.
One of the wardens shot at the suspect as he rounded a curve in the road. It’s unclear whether he was hit, but the stolen pickup careened off the road and crashed in a snowbank.
The driver then ran to the cabin where he barricaded himself and got in a shootout with San Bernardino County deputies and other officers, two of whom were shot, one fatally.
A SWAT team surrounded the cabin and used an armored vehicle to break out the cabin windows, said a law enforcement official who requested anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The officers then lobbed tear gas canisters into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: “Surrender or come out.”
The armored vehicle then tore down each of the cabin’s four walls.
A single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames, the law enforcement official told the Associated Press.