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Christopher Dorner hid in plain sight

The fugitive took refuge in a Big Bear area cabin very close to the command post from which authorities directed the manhunt.

February 13, 2013|By Phil Willon, Adolfo Flores and Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
  • Investigators on Wednesday were tryng to identify the human remains found in the charred cabin where fugitive ex-LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner was believed to have been holed up after trading gunfire with officers near Big Bear, authorities said.
Investigators on Wednesday were tryng to identify the human remains found… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

To track Christopher Dorner, police from dozens of agencies chased tips across multiple states and into Mexico. But it appears now that he found a hiding place where searchers were thickest.

It is unclear how long Dorner, 33, was hunkered down in the cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive, in the snowy mountains near Big Bear. But the cabin was so close to the manhunt command post and to an adjacent press area that countless police and reporters would have fallen in his line of vision.

Questions abounded Wednesday about how Dorner managed to evade capture at the very center of the manhunt, a day after he apparently died in another cabin nearby during a police siege.

PHOTOS: Manhunt for ex-LAPD officer

Authorities are trying to confirm whether charred remains found in the cabin, which caught fire after police lobbed incendiary tear gas inside, belonged to Dorner.

Authorities declared the manhunt over Wednesday. And the Los Angeles Police Department, which had been on frequent tactical alerts, has resumed normal operations. Most of the protective details have been called off the 50 or so families who were threatened in an online manifesto police say Dorner wrote.

Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer embittered by his firing, killed the daughter of a retired LAPD captain, her fiance and two law officers during a nine-day rampage that began in Irvine, police say.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Searching for suspected shooter

On Feb. 7, authorities found the smoking wreckage of Dorner's Nissan Titan in the Big Bear area, triggering a massive search. Could Dorner, who reportedly bragged about his military and survivalist skills, survive on the cold mountain? Could he have staged the burning truck as a diversion, and already be hundreds of miles away? Was he dead?

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department officials said the search included more than 600 cabins over eight square miles in the Big Bear area, where many of the structures are empty vacation homes. But Jeanne Kelly, who lives blocks from where Dorner was apparently holed up, said searchers never knocked on her door.

"I think if they searched every house, they probably would've found him," said Kelly, 61. "I hate to knock them."

WHO THEY WERE: Victims in the Dorner case

Jim Rose lives half a mile from the command center, and said searchers never knocked on his door either. "One friend said 'OK, so much for the inspection,' " said Rose, 78.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, sheriff's officials defended the search. They said deputies checked the general area extensively and said they did not identify signs of forced entry at that particular cabin.

Officials said the cabin was last rented Feb. 6, a day before Dorner's truck was found burning nearby.

Jack Gaston and his wife, Donna, said they are happy the search is over and hope life will return to normal on the mountain, where roads were closed and residents passed through multiple police checkpoints over the last week.

They said they were shocked that Dorner had still been in the area. "We figured he was five states away from here," Donna Gaston said.

The mayhem began Feb. 3, when Monica Quan, daughter of a retired LAPD captain, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, were found shot to death in an Irvine parking garage.

Police soon found a Facebook manifesto believed to be Dorner's, which vowed "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" against police and their families for what he called his unfair firing from the LAPD.

On Feb. 7, hours after apparently trying to steal a boat in Point Loma, Dorner opened fire on two Riverside officers, killing one of them, Michael Crain. In Torrance, police mistakenly shot at two trucks wrongly believed to be Dorner's, hitting a 71-year-old woman in the back.

Then police found Dorner's burning pickup truck and converged en masse on the Big Bear area.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jim and Karen Reynolds entered their condominium on Club View Drive and found Dorner hiding inside. They said Dorner tied them up, then stole their purple Nissan. Earlier reports had indicated that two housecleaners were the people who discovered Dorner in the condo.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan said game wardens spotted Dorner tailgating a school bus on Highway 38, apparently as protection against spike-strips police might deploy.

He said Dorner lost the wardens in the ensuing chase, then crashed into a snow berm.

Rick Heltebrake, a ranger at a local Boy Scout camp, said he was driving on Glass Road with his Dalmation when he saw movement in the trees. It was a man dressed in camouflage and a ballistics vest. He had an assault rifle. Heltebrake knew it was Dorner.

"He came at me with his gun leveled at my head," Heltebrake said. "I stopped, put my truck in park, raised my hands, and he said, 'I don't want to hurt you, just get out, start walking up the road and take your dog.' I said, 'Can I get her leash?' He said 'No, just start walking.' "

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