RIVERSIDE – Charred remains found in the aftermath of a deadly gunbattle and fire at a Big Bear cabin were positively identified today as those of a fugitive ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer accused of killing two people in Irvine, a Riverside police officer and a San Bernardino County sheriff’s detective.
Officials in San Bernardino County said they used dental records to identify the remains of 33-year-old Christopher Jordan Dorner.
Dorner died at the end of a fierce gunfight Tuesday afternoon that led to a standoff at a Seven Oaks cabin in Big Bear. Sheriff’s deputies eventually fired tear gas canisters into the cabin and a fire erupted, burning the structure to the ground. Charred remains were found inside later that night, but it took investigators until today to positively identify them as Dorner.
At 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies received a report of a man matching Dorner’s description stealing a car from a cabin in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Big Bear.
The cabin’s owners, 66-year-old Jim and 56-year-old Karen Reynolds, said they arrived around noon Tuesday to clean it for a pending rental and were surprised to find someone matching Dorner’s description inside.
Telling the couple he wouldn’t harm them and was just trying to clear his name, the man used plastic zip ties to bind their hands and legs and put towels in their mouths and pillowcases over their heads before forcing them into a back bedroom, the couple said.
He told the couple he had been in the cabin since as early as Friday and had watched them from inside as they did yard work outside before he fled to sleep elsewhere, they said.
After Dorner left, the couple managed to free themselves and call authorities.
Their stolen vehicle was spotted along Highway 38 by state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers who began chasing the suspect. During the chase, he crashed, abandoned the vehicle and carjacked a man’s silver pickup truck.
The suspect opened fire during the pursuit, striking the officers’ vehicle, according to Fish and Wildlife Lt. Patrick Foy. The officers, who returned fire, were not injured, he said.
Officials say Dorner then engaged law enforcement officers in a wild gunbattle while holed up in the cabin on Seven Oaks Road just off Highway 38. During the exchange of gunfire, San Bernardino County sheriff’s Detective Jeremiah MacKay, 35, was killed, and Deputy Alex Collins was wounded. Collins was expected to make a full recovery.
During the standoff, police used a heavily armored vehicle to tear down walls of the cabin, then fired tear gas canisters inside shortly after 4 p.m. By about 4:20 p.m., the cabin was engulfed in flames. Several reports indicated that a single gunshot was heard emanating from the cabin before it burned down. As the fire raged, the sound of exploding ammunition could be heard from inside.
The manhunt for Dorner had been focused in the Big Bear area since last Thursday when his pickup truck — apparently disabled by a broken axle — was discovered burning on a forest road. Ironically, the Reynolds’ cabin where Dorner was apparently hiding overlooked the Sheriff’s Department command post that was established to coordinate the search.
Authorities say Dorner’s killing spree began on Feb. 3, when the former Navy Reserve lieutenant allegedly gunned down the daughter and future son-in- law of an ex-police captain who represented him at a hearing that resulted in his dismissal from the LAPD.
The bodies of 28-year-old Cal State Fullerton assistant women’s basketball coach Monica Quan and her fiance, 27-year-old USC public safety Officer Keith Lawrence, were found in Lawrence’s car in the parking structure of their Irvine condominium building.
The next day, Dorner allegedly posted a 6,000-word manifesto online, vowing to kill named LAPD officers and their families. About 50 Los Angeles police officers and their families were being protected during the manhunt, authorities said.
Last Thursday, Dorner was allegedly involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police guarding an officer’s home in Corona, leaving one officer with a graze wound to the head, police said. About 20 minutes later, he allegedly fired on a pair of Riverside police officers stopped at a red light, killing Officer Michael Crain, 34, and wounding the other, who was expected to recover.
Crain, an 11-year department veteran and ex-Marine, is survived by his wife, Regina, and two children, Ian, 10, and Kaitlyn, 4. He was buried Wednesday at Riverside National Cemetery after a memorial service at Grove Community Church. Among the thousands of people paying their final respects were Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris, military veterans and thousands of police officers from around the state and country.
Meanwhile, questions continued to linger about whether anyone — such as the Reynolds couple or Big Bear carjacking victim Rick Heltebrake — would be able to collect a $1 million reward that had been offered during the Dorner manhunt.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced the reward fund Sunday, and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck issued a statement saying they hoped the reward would be paid out, but the issue was still being reviewed by the various agencies and jurisdictions that contributed.
”Now that the search for Christopher Dorner appears to have concluded, we are addressing the issue of the $1 million reward,” the statement read. ”More than 20 jurisdictions and entities are involved in this reward, so all of them will be coming together to collectively determine whether any individual or individuals qualify for it. Our personal hope is that the reward will be distributed, but we must follow the rules and respect for the procedures of each entity.”