BEAR LAKE, Calif. – The manhunt for a former Los Angeles police officer suspected of going on a killing spree converged Tuesday on a mountain cabin where authorities believe he barricaded himself inside, engaged in a shootout that killed a deputy and then never emerged as the home went up in flames.
A single gunshot was heard from within. San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said Tuesday night that a charred body was found inside the burned-out cabin.
Investigators will use forensic tests to determine if the body belongs to Christopher Dorner. If the results are positive, the search for the most wanted man in America over the last week will have ended the way he had expected — death, with the police pursuing him. He is believed to have killed at least four people.
Thousands of officers had been on the hunt for the former Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing. They say he threatened to bring “warfare” to officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across the Southwest and Mexico.
“Enough is enough. It’s time for you to turn yourself in. It’s time to stop the bloodshed,” LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said at a news conference held outside police headquarters in Los Angeles, a starkly different atmosphere than last week when Dorner was on the loose and officials briefed the news media under heavy security in an underground hallway.
A short time after Smith spoke Tuesday, smoke began to rise from the cabin in the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Flames then engulfed the building — images that were broadcast on live television around the world. TV helicopters showed the fire burning freely with no apparent effort to extinguish it.
“We have reason to believe that it is him,” said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman, adding that she didn’t know how the fire started. She noted there was gunfire between the person in the cabin and officers around the home before the blaze began.
Earlier, there were conflicting reports about whether a body had been found inside shortly after the fire, with both the Los Angeles and San Bernardino authorities disputing the find in separate news conferences. But an official later told the AP a body had been seen in the rubble. The official requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Until Tuesday, authorities didn’t know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pickup last week.
It’s believed that Dorner broke into a house near where his truck was found and tied two people up.
About mid-day Tuesday, wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted a purple Nissan car that had been reported stolen, department spokesman Lt. Patrick Foy said. The wardens recognized the driver as someone matching Dorner’s description.
They pursued the driver and briefly lost him when he turned onto a side road. Three other wardens in two vehicles turned onto the road a short time later, and were searching for the car when they saw a white pickup truck driving toward them erratically and at a high rate of speed.
Wardens got a close look at the driver and realized it was Dorner, who rolled down his window and opened fire, Foy said.
The wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times, and one of the wardens was able to get out and fire at the driver, who escaped on foot after crashing his truck.
After holing up in the cabin, there was a second gunbattle with San Bernardino County deputies, two of whom were shot. One died and the other was expected to live after undergoing surgery.
“We’re heartbroken,” Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte said of the deputy’s death and the wounding of his colleague. “Words can’t express how grateful we are for the sacrifice those men have made in defense of the community, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.”
The man believed to be Dorner never came out of the cabin, and a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.
Earlier, a SWAT team surrounded the cabin and used an armored vehicle to break out the cabin windows, the official said. The officers then pumped a gas into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: “Surrender or come out.”
The armored vehicle then tore down each of the cabin’s four walls, like peeling back the layers of an onion, the official said.
Police say Dorner began his run on Feb. 6 after they connected the slayings of a former police captain’s daughter and her fiance with an angry Facebook rant they said he posted. Threats against the LAPD led officials to assign officers to protect officers and their families.
Within hours of the release of photos of the 6-foot, 270-pounder described as armed and “extremely dangerous,” police say, Dorner unsuccessfully tried to steal
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