SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) – Fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner apparently killed himself as the cabin he was barricaded in caught fire following a shootout with officers, police revealed Friday while also confirming he spent most of his time on the run in a condominium just steps away from the command center set up to find him.
Authorities initially were unsure whether Dorner killed himself, had been struck by a deputy’s bullet, or had died in a fire that engulfed the cabin during the shootout, which included police sending tear gas canisters inside.
The search for Dorner began last week after authorities said he had launched a deadly revenge campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing, warning in a manifesto posted on Facebook that he would bring “warfare” to LAPD officers and their families.
Within days he apparently killed four people, including two police officers.
He killed the daughter of a former Los Angeles Police Department captain and her fiance Feb. 3 and later a Riverside police officer he ambushed at a traffic light. He then disappeared into the San Bernardino National Forest four days later, leaving his burned-out truck with a broken axle near the mountain resort of Big Bear Lake. His fourth victim was a sheriff’s deputy killed in Tuesday’s shootout.
Until then, Dorner had managed to elude one of the largest manhunts in California history, one that employed heat-seeking helicopters and bloodhounds.
Sheriff John McMahon said Friday that authorities now believe Dorner was hiding all that time in a condo within 100 yards of a command post they had set up for the manhunt.
Karen and Jim Reynolds found Dorner inside their vacant cabin-style condo Tuesday when they entered to clean it. The couple had left the door unlocked Thursday for a maintenance man, McMahon said, and that’s apparently how Dorner got in, locking the door behind him.
When authorities stopped at the condo during their door-to-door search of the Big Bear Lake area that Thursday night, the door was locked and no one answered, McMahon said.
“Our deputy knocked on that door and did not get an answer, and in hindsight it’s probably a good thing that he did not answer based on his actions before and after that event,” the sheriff said of Dorner.
When the couple arrived Tuesday, Jim Reynolds said Dorner confronted them with a drawn gun, “jumped out and hollered ‘stay calm.’”
Dorner bound their arms and legs with plastic ties, gagged them with towels and covered their heads with pillowcases and fled in their purple Nissan, but Karen Reynolds soon got free and called 911.
“I really thought it could be the end,” she said afterward.
Law enforcement officers, who had gathered outside the cabin for daily for briefings, were stunned that Donner was watching from just across the street. One official later looking on Google Earth exclaimed that he’d parked right across the street from the Reynoldses’ condo each day.
Timothy Clemente, a retired FBI SWAT team leader who was part of the search for Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, said searchers had to work methodically. When there’s a hot pursuit, they can run after a suspect into a building. But in a manhunt, the search has to slow down and police have to have a reason to enter a building.
“You can’t just kick in every door,” he said.