Body in Burned Cabin Believed to be Ex-Cop
The body in a burned cabin is believed to be Christopher Dorner, according to authorities.
Police from around the Los Angeles area gathered to bury one of their own Wednesday while investigators worked to confirm the man blamed for killing Officer Michael Crain and three other people was dead.
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. Investigators say he was shot and killed by Christopher Dorner, a cashiered Los Angeles cop who launched a vendetta against his old department last week.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said authorities have a “reasonable belief” that the body found in a burned-out cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains late Tuesday is Dorner’s. But while the SWAT teams that prowled the city in search of the former Navy officer have stood down, the officers detailed to guard his potential victims remain in place.
“I think we all are breathing a sigh of relief,” Villaraigosa said Wednesday. “We do believe that it is the body of Christopher Dorner, but we don’t know for a certainty. And until we do, those police officers who were targeted will continue to be protected. That’s the least we could do.”
Authorities say Dorner launched a guerrilla war against the Los Angeles Police Department over what he considered his unfair dismissal in 2009. He’s accused of killing four people — Crain, a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, the daughter of a former LAPD captain and her fiance — and wounding three other police officers since February 3.
It wasn’t clear when a formal identification could be made of the charred remains found in the cabin near Big Bear Lake, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, after a Tuesday 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.
The fiery standoff that capped the search Tuesday came five days after Dorner’s burned truck turned up on a forest road near Big Bear Lake. Officers converged on the remote area, but the trail went cold for days in a fierce blizzard. On Sunday, the San Bernardino authorities said they had scaled back the search.
Los Angeles authorities had issued a $1 million reward for Dorner’s capture. Villaraigosa said it was too soon to say if anyone would be able to claim the reward.
What may have been the final act began Tuesday, when California Fish and Wildlife wardens said they spotted Dorner driving a purple Nissan down icy roads near Big Bear Lake. He was driving very close to school buses, as if using them as cover, Lt. Patrick Foy said.
No children were on the buses, he said.
The wardens, driving in two different vehicles, chased Dorner. 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 truck — and then something terrifying.
“Here comes this guy with a big gun, and I knew who it was right away,” he 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 with San Bernardino County deputies, killing one and wounding another.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters Tuesday the other deputy was in surgery, “but he should be fine.”
Some of the firefight between police and the gunman 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 told reporters.
The cabin caught fire when police tossed smoke devices inside, a law enforcement source told CNN. The intense fire burned for hours as authorities waited at a distance.
After initially saying that no body had been found, sheriff’s investigators finally confirmed overnight that they had found charred human remains in the ashes.
The department said it would work to identify the remains, but it could take a while.
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.
The deputy’s death in the shootout Tuesday brought to four the number of people that police believe Dorner killed.
Dorner, who vowed to kill police officers to avenge what he called an unfair termination, 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.
Police say Dorner promised a war on police after issuing a manifesto blaming the LAPD for mistreating him. He claimed he was railroaded out of the department after filing a brutality report against another officer and said a culture of racism and misconduct continues within the department.
The manifesto warned dozens of LAPD figures and their families that he would wage “asymmetric warfare” against the department, drawing on his training with the LAPD and as a naval officer in river warfare and security units.
He said it was not something he enjoyed, but called it a “last resort” to clear his name and bring change to the department.
He also predicted his own death would come in a confrontation with police.
“Self Preservation is no longer important to me,” the manifesto said. “I do not fear death as I died long ago.”
By Miguel Marquez and Lateef Mungin
FOX 8 contributed to this report.
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