Christopher Dorner death not yet confirmed in Big Bear, California

After an afternoon-long standoff, shootout and fire, reports of Dorner's death in Big Bear are premature. Photo: Billboard not being removed just yet / AP Photo

SAN DIEGO - February 12 - After many tension filled days in Southern California, the massive manhunt for former Los Angeles Police officer Christopher Dorner gone rogue may be over soon.

Los Angeles Police chief Charlie Beck said in a brief news conference after 11 p.m. Eastern Time that despite reports to the contrary, no body has yet been pulled from the cabin. Beck said the cabin remained far too hot for any personnel to enter at this time.

Beck said the San Bernardino County Sherriff’s Department has the lead on this part of the investigation. In the meantime, Beck said LAPD will continue to provide threat protection to Dorner’s intended targets as named in his so-called manifesto. “Until he is identified as deceased, or has handcuffs on him, we will proceed as if he is alive,” said Beck.

Beck noted that recovering bodies out of burned buildings is very difficult, and the identification process is very difficult, sometimes taking days or weeks. 

Beck also promised any individual who may have assisted in hiding Dorner to help him avoid capture, or assisted him in any way is criminally culpable and will be pursued. “We will leave no stone unturned to find out whether he has been assisted.”

Dorner never came out of the rustic mountain cabin after fleeing from San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies who pursued him after reports of a stolen vehicle being driven by someone resembling Dorner.

After several hours, a SWAT team moved in. Gunfire was heard between the person in the cabin, now known to be Dorner, and law enforcement surrounding the cabin.

Then a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames..

TV helicopters showed the fire burning freely for several hours with no apparent effort to extinguish it.

Authorities say Dorner threatened to bring “warfare” to LAPD officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across three states and Mexico. Until Tuesday, authorities didn’t know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear, where they found his burned-out pickup last week. Smith said 1,045 officers were following up on all leads received regarding Dorner’s whereabouts.

The manhunt rattled the nerves of Southern Californians, a human earthquake of increasing magnitude as the search wore on.

“Enough is enough. It’s time for you to turn yourself in. It’s time to stop the bloodshed,” Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andrew Smith said earlier at a news conference.

Authorities focused their hunt for Dorner in Big Bear since they said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing.

Around 12:20 p.m. Pacific Time Tuesday, deputies got a report of a stolen vehicle, authorities said. The location was directly across the street from where law enforcement set up their command post on Thursday and not far from where Dorner’s burned-out pickup was abandoned.

The people whose vehicle was stolen described the suspect as looking similar to Dorner. When authorities found the vehicle, the suspect ran into the forest and barricaded himself inside the cabin.

The first exchange of gunfire occurred about 12:45 p.m.

A California Department of Fish and Wildlife officer spotted and pursued the vehicle and there was a shooting in which the wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times and the suspect escaped on foot.

A second exchange took place with San Bernardino County deputies, two of whom were shot. One died and the other was expected to live after undergoing surgery.

“We’re heartbroken,” Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte said of the deputy’s death and the wounding of his colleague. “Words can’t express how grateful we are for the sacrifice those men have made in defense of the community and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.”

Dorner began his ill-fated odyssey on February 6 after police connected the deaths of a former police captain’s daughter and her fiance with an angry Facebook rant Dorner posted. Threats against the LAPD led officials to assign officers to protect officers and their families.

Within hours of the release of photos of the 6-foot, 270-pound Dorner, described as armed and “extremely dangerous,” Dorner unsuccessfully tried to steal a boat in San Diego to flee to Mexico and then ambushed police in Riverside County, shooting three and killing one.

Jumpy officers guarding one of the targets named in the rant in Torrance on Thursday shot and injured two women delivering newspapers because they mistook their pickup truck for Dorner’s.

Police found charred weapons and camping gear inside the truck in Big Bear.

Helicopters using heat-seeking technology searched the forest from above while scores of officers, some using bloodhounds, scoured the ground and checked hundreds of vacation cabins — many vacant this time of year — in the area.

A snowstorm hindered the search and may have helped cover his tracks, though authorities were hopeful he would leave fresh footprints if hiding in the wilderness.

Dorner’s anger with the department dated back at least five years, when he was fired for filing a false report accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally ill suspect. Dorner, who is black, claimed in the rant that he was the subject of racism by the department and fired for doing the right thing.

He said he would get even with those who wronged him as part of his plan to reclaim his good name.

“You’re going to see what a whistleblower can do when you take everything from him especially his NAME!!!” the rant said. “You have awoken a sleeping giant.”

Chief Charlie Beck, who initially dismissed the allegations in the rant, said he would reopen the investigation into his firing — not to appease the ex-officer, but to restore confidence in the black community, which long had a fractured relationship with police that has improved in recent years.

Dorner served in the Navy, earning a rifle marksman ribbon and pistol expert medal. He was assigned to a naval undersea warfare unit and various aviation training units, according to military records. He took leave from the LAPD for a six-month deployment to Bahrain in 2006 and 2007.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.


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