BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. » Officials say burned remains found in a California mountain cabin have been positively identified as fugitive former police officer Christopher Dorner.
San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Thursday that the identification was made through Dorner’s dental records.
He styled himself as a Rambo-like guerrilla, someone trained to outwit and outshoot the police at every turn, and while Christopher Dorner left no doubt he could be unforgivingly violent, when it came to keeping ahead of the law during his deadly rampage, he made one mistake after another.
The last one — letting one of two people he tied up get to her cellphone and call police as he made off in their purple car — tipped authorities he was coming.
The angry ex-cop, who authorities say boasted that police agencies had no chance of capturing him except on his terms, appears to have been killed Tuesday in a fierce gun battle after he wrecked two getaway cars and had to make a last stand in a mountain cabin 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
The cabin went up in flames after authorities launched pyrotechnic tear gas canisters into it, and authorities were all but certain the charred body found inside afterward was Dorner’s. They are waiting for forensic tests to confirm that, but in the meantime San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday that authorities consider the hunt over.
Personal effects, including Dorner’s driver’s license, were found with the body, an official briefed on the search told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Sheriff’s deputies were not trying to burn down the cabin with Dorner inside but simply flush him out, McMahon said.
“It was not on purpose,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out.”
Karen and Jim Reynolds said they came face to face with Dorner around noon on the day of his downfall. The couple said that they found him in their cabin-style condominium just a stone’s throw from the sheriff’s command post, and believe he had been there since Friday.
The couple said Dorner bound them, put pillow cases over their heads and fled in their purple Nissan. When he did, Karen Reynolds managed to get to her cellphone and call 911. The Reynolds told their story at a news conference Wednesday night, they said, to clear up recent reports that it was two female housekeepers who had found Dorner and been tied up.
Their account could not immediately be confirmed by law enforcement officials, but it matched earlier reports saying it was a married couple, and property records showed them as the owners.
The manhunt, one of the largest in recent memory, began last week after Dorner was linked to the killings of a former Los Angeles police captain’s daughter and her fiance.
Soon after the couple was found shot death near their Orange County condo, authorities linked their killings to a long, rambling rant they say Dorner posted on Facebook vowing to get revenge on the Los Angeles police and their families for ruining his reputation by firing him.
Dorner was dismissed for filing a false report wrongly accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally disabled man.
“I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty,” Dorner had boasted. “You will now live the life of the prey.”
As it turned out, none of Dorner’s four victims were Los Angeles police officers. The other two were a Riverside officer he ambushed at a traffic light and a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy killed in Tuesday’s firefight.
“If you’re really trying to kill all those people, if that’s really your plan, and you’re a great tactician, then you don’t tell people,” said Jim Clemente, a retired behavioral analyst for the FBI. “You don’t tell LAPD in advance so they can put a bunch of bodyguards on people. He went and killed soft targets, innocent citizens who had nothing to do with him at all. He used those to scare people, and he used those sadistically to harm the LAPD officer he wanted to get at.”
After the first two killings, Dorner tried to steal a boat in San Diego and flee to Mexico, but the former Navy veteran tangled a rope in the outboard motor and couldn’t start it, authorities said. Then he fled to the Big Bear Lake resort area, where his truck axle broke, stranding him on Feb. 7, just ahead of a heavy snowstorm.
He may have caught a break when he found refuge in a vacant vacation cabin just across the street from a command post established for the hundreds of officers frantically searching for him.
Despite a search that involved helicopters and bloodhounds and officers going door-to-door checking hundreds of cabins, Dorner remained out of sight until he was discovered Tuesday at the cabin near the command post.
San Bernardino County Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky said searchers had not seen any forced entry when they checked it, but he could not provide details about exactly when that check was made.
Authorities, for the most part, looked at cabins boarded up for the winter, said Dan Sforza, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and often didn’t enter occupied homes where nothing appeared amiss.
As he fled in the Nissan, Dorner managed to elude authorities for a time by pulling behind two school buses and making a quick turn onto a mountain road. But he crashed the car there and had to steal another.
That’s when he confronted Rick Heltebrake, a ranger who takes care of a Boy Scout camp nearby, and took his pickup. Heltebrake was checking the perimeter of the camp for anything out of the ordinary when he saw Dorner emerge from behind some trees. He was dressed in military fatigues and holding a semi-automatic-style rifle.
“I don’t want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog,” Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying as he pointed the gun at him. He fled with his 3-year-old Dalmatian, Suni, and immediately called police, who quickly found the suspect again.
This time he opened fire as he drove past a car carrying game wardens looking for him. One of them got out of his own vehicle and returned fire from his high-powered, semi-automatic rifle but apparently missed.
Out of options after crashing the pickup, the driver made a break for a cabin and barricaded himself inside, where he made his last stand.
Dorner’s mother released a family statement to the FOX affiliate in Los Angeles disavowing her son’s actions in his final weeks.
“It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we express our deepest sympathies and condolences to anyone that suffered losses or injuries resulting from Christopher’s actions. We do not condone Christopher’s actions,” said the statement Nancy Dorner gave to KTTV-TV. “The family has no further comments and ask that our privacy be respected during this difficult time.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremiah MacKay was killed during that final gunfight and another deputy was wounded.
MacKay, a detective who had been with the department 15 years, had a wife, 7-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son, sheriff’s officials said. He had spoken to AP just last weekend, saying he hoped Dorner could be taken into custody without any more violence.
“You just never know if the guy’s going to pop out or where he’s going to pop out,” MacKay told an AP reporter. “We’re hoping this comes to a close without any more casualties.”
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in San Bernardino and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this story.