Authorities said Wednesday they are reasonably sure that the body found inside the burned cabin near Big Bear Lake, California, is that of Christopher Dorner, the rogue ex-cop who allegedly had been pursuing a vendetta against his fellow officers.
“We believe that this investigation is over, at this point, and we’ll just need to move on from here,” San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon told reporters.
Although the description and behavior of the man who was killed are consistent with Dorner, officials “cannot absolutely, positively confirm it was him,” McMahon said.
“We’re not currently involved in a manhunt,” he said. “Our coroner’s division is trying to confirm the identity through forensics.”
Authorities say Dorner launched a guerrilla war against the Los Angeles Police Department over what he considered his unfair dismissal in 2009.
McMahon identified a sheriff’s detective who was fatally shot Tuesday by the man presumed to have been Dorner as Jeremiah MacKay. MacKay, 35, was a 15-year veteran and married with two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son.
Another officer has undergone “a couple of different surgeries” after being wounded in the shootout. “He’s in good spirits and should make a full recovery after a number of additional surgeries,” McMahon said.
The two men were ambushed when they responded to a report of a vehicle stolen by a suspect matching Dorner’s description, McMahon said.
“It was like a war zone, and our deputies continued to go into that area and tried to neutralize and stop the threat,” McMahon said. “The rounds kept coming, but our deputies didn’t give up.”
The suspect then fled into a nearby vacant cabin, which caught fire after police shot tear gas canisters into it, McMahon said.
Although the canisters included pyrotechnic tear gas, which generates heat, “We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out,” McMahon said.
It was not clear how long the man believed to have been Dorner had been in the cabin, said San Bernardino County Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky.
Last Thursday, after Dorner’s burned-out vehicle was found nearby, “each cabin” in the area had been inspected for signs of break-in or open doors, he said.
“I don’t believe that there (was) anybody in there on Thursday, at the start of the investigation,” he said. “We did not find any forced entry.”
But neighbors have told CNN that no one knocked on their doors.
It wasn’t clear when a formal identification could be made of the charred remains found in the cabin about 100 miles east of Los Angeles after Tuesday’s shootout with police. Until then, “a lot of apprehension” remains in the ranks of the LAPD, Lt. Andy Neiman said.
“It’s been a very trying time over the last couple of weeks for all of those involved and all those families, friends and everybody that has been touched by this incident,” he said.
On Wednesday, police from around the Los Angeles area and beyond gathered to bury Michael Crain, who was fatally shot by the 33-year-old former Navy officer.
Dorner is also accused of killing the daughter of a former LAPD captain and her fiance and of shooting three other cops, including Crain’s partner.
A squad of bagpipers led Crain’s flag-draped casket through a cordon of blue uniforms into a church in Riverside, the Los Angeles suburb where he served 11 years on the force.
The mourners who packed the church included California Gov. Jerry Brown, his Highway Patrol chief and law enforcement from a number of other agencies around the region.
“I knew that communities would reach out, and I knew a lot of people loved Mike,” Regina Crain, the slain officer’s widow, told them. “And I knew that I would have support no matter what. But I really did not realize the sheer scale of this, and how many people are touched by his life. It gives me really great comfort to see that, and I want to thank you all.”
‘A very trying time’ for the LAPD
Investigators began scouring the mountains last Thursday, when investigators found Dorner’s scorched pickup. Police, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents swarmed into the area, working through a weekend blizzard, but the trail was cold for days.
On Sunday, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said it had scaled back the search. Villaraigosa announced a $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner’s arrest and conviction, spurring hundreds of tips.
Then, early Tuesday afternoon, California Fish and Wildlife wardens said they had spotted a man who appeared to be Dorner driving a purple Nissan down icy roads near Big Bear Lake.
‘Here comes this guy with a big gun’
The wardens, driving in two different vehicles, chased Dorner, and a gun battle ensued. One of the warden’s cars was hit, and Dorner crashed his car and ran, according to authorities. He then carjacked a pickup truck.
Rick Heltebrake, a camp ranger, said he was driving when he saw the crashed purple vehicle — and then something terrifying.
“Here comes this guy with a big gun, and I knew who it was right away,” Heltebrake told CNN affiliate KTLA. “He just came out of the snow at me with his gun at my head. He said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you. Just get out of the car and start walking.’ “
Heltebrake said the man let him take his dog and walk away with his hands up.
“Not more than 10 seconds later, I heard a loud round of gunfire,” Heltebrake said. “Ten to 20 rounds, maybe. I found out later what that was all about.”
Dorner fled to a nearby cabin and got into another shootout, this time with the San Bernardino County deputies, killing one and wounded another.
Some of the firefight between police and the suspect was captured live on the telephone of a reporter for CNN affiliates KCBS and KCAL. Police in Los Angeles listened live over police scanners broadcast on the Internet, Neiman said.
“It was horrifying to listen to that firefight,” he said. “To hear those words, ‘officer down,’ is the most gut-wrenching experience you can have as a police officer, because you know what that means.”
‘Maintain your discipline’
A law enforcement source told CNN the cabin caught fire when police tossed smoke devices inside. The cabin was fully ablaze within minutes and burned for hours as authorities waited at a distance.
Devices such as “flash-bang” grenades and tear gas canisters designed to disorient and disable suspects can cause fires, CNN contributor Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director, said Wednesday. But it wasn’t clear exactly how the fire started.
Audio from a Los Angeles television station captured the sound of someone early in the standoff shouting, “Burn it down … burn that goddamn house down. Burn it down.” It’s not clear who used those words.
But the order to use smoke canisters — “burners” — didn’t come for another two hours, according to San Bernardino County sheriff’s radio traffic.
“Seven burners deployed, and we have a fire,” one officer reported at 4:16 p.m. (7:16 p.m. ET).
Five minutes later, a single gunshot was reported from inside the house. A senior officer ordered units around the cabin, “Stand by. Maintain your discipline.” About a minute after that, officers reported ammunition exploding inside.
After initially saying that no body had been found, sheriff’s investigators confirmed overnight that they had found charred human remains among the ashes.
Dorner cheered in some quarters
Dorner had vowed to kill police officers to avenge what he called his unfair termination. He was fired after accusing his training officer of kicking a suspect during a July 2007 arrest — a complaint the LAPD concluded was unfounded.
The department accused him of lying to superiors and to internal affairs investigators and forced him out in January 2009. Dorner challenged his dismissal in court but was unsuccessful.
Dorner was first named a suspect in two shooting deaths on February 3: Monica Quan, the daughter of his police union representative, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence.
Police say he killed Crain and wounded Crain’s partner in an ambush on their patrol car Thursday. They say he also wounded an LAPD officer who chased him in the suburban city of Corona, California.
In a manifesto explaining his rampage, Dorner said nothing had changed in the LAPD since its scandals of the 1990s, the Rodney King beating and the Rampart police corruption case. Those allegations have struck a chord with some who say that, despite the four killings, Dorner was seeking justice.
Shadowed by that history, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced Saturday that the department would re-examine its proceedings against Dorner. The review is “not to appease a murderer,” but “to reassure the public that their police department is transparent and fair in all things we do,” he said.
By Miguel Marquez and Matt Smith
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