Chris Dorner case: Cabin not burned on purpose, sheriff says

A Big Bear-area cabin where fugitive Chris Dorner is believed to have died on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, day after the structure went up in flames.
February 13, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The San Bernardino County sheriff says a cabin where fugitive Chris Dorner is believed to have died was not purposely set on fire by deputies.

During a press conference Wednesday, Sheriff John McMahon said deputies shot pyrotechnic tear gas, commonly referred to as "burners," into the Big Bear-area cabin. The tactic to drive Dorner out resulted in flames.

"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out," McMahon said. "We introduced those canisters into the residence and a fire erupted."

But questions are being raised because of comments heard over scanners between officers on the scene.

"We're going to go forward with the plan, with the burn," one officer was heard saying.

"Copy," another replied.

Moments later, an officer was heard saying, "Copy, 61 Lincoln, seven burners deployed and we have a fire."

Charred human remains believed to be Dorner were found in the smoldering rubble of the cabin.

"We believe that this investigation is over at this point," McMahon said. "We're currently not involved in a manhunt any longer."

However, the body has not positively been identified. A California driver's license with the name Christopher Dorner was also found in the burned down cabin, an Associated Press source said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation and says the charred body and personal items were found in the basement of the burned cabin.

Police had been searching the Big Bear area for Dorner since last Thursday when his vehicle was found. The cabin where Dorner, 33, was allegedly hiding was located a few hundred feet from the command post where media and law enforcement officers gathered for four days in search of him.

"At the start of the investigation, we don't believe that there was anybody in that cabin," said Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky.

The news conference was cut short after authorities did not respond to questions about whether or not every home in the area had been searched.

Authorities spotted Dorner on Tuesday after one of two people held hostage by the suspect earlier in the day escaped and called police. Karen and Jim Reynolds, owners of Mountain Vista Resort, reportedly found Dorner in the cabin when they arrived to clean the residence. The suspect allegedly tied them up, carjacked them and then fled the scene.

The two victims were OK following the ordeal and did not require medical attention, officials said. It was originally reported that the captives were two housekeepers, a mother and daughter.

Chris Dorner manhunt: See a timeline of key events

California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens spotted the stolen vehicle on Highway 38 and engaged in gunfire with the suspect. The wardens' vehicle was shot many times, but they were not struck.

Dorner allegedly escaped on foot, carjacked a second vehicle and eventually ran into the forest and barricaded himself inside the cabin in Angelus Oaks.

See a map detailing the chain of events in the Chris Dorner case

The suspect was involved in an intense firefight with San Bernardino sheriff's deputies at the location.

"It was like a war zone. Our deputies continued to go in to that area and tried to neutralize and stop the threat," McMahon said.

It was later confirmed one deputy, Jeremiah MacKay, was killed and another seriously wounded. The deputy who survived underwent surgery.

A SWAT team arrived shortly and surrounded the cabin. Deputies shot tear gas inside and yelled at the suspect over the loud speaker urging him to surrender, to no avail. The cabin eventually went up in flames and burned for several hours.

Authorities entered the burned Angelus Oaks cabin late Tuesday night after the property was deemed safe and discovered charred remains in the rubble. Forensic investigators are working to positively identify that the body is in fact that of Dorner's.

"We believe that the person who barricaded himself is inside the cabin and engaged in gunfire with our deputies and other law enforcement officers is still inside there even though the building burned," San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.

Eyewitness News spoke exclusively to a man who lived next door to the cabin where the two people were initially tied up. Bruce Doucette of Big Bear Lake was surprised to find out the suspect was hiding next door.

"It's pretty unnerving that he was, you know, I mean literally 20, 30 feet away from my place for four to six days," Doucette said.

Doucette said the cabin is a vacation rental and was likely not rented this week. The couple who arrived to clean the place were readying the rental cabin for upcoming weekend guests.

Tuesday's investigation shut down all mountain roads leading to Big Bear for hours. Every car coming down the mountain on Highway 330 was searched and checked at gunpoint by officers.

The frantic 911 calls that led to the road closures were released Wednesday.

"Shut down the freeway. We have some information that Big Bear is working on a call up in Big Bear - possibly the subject we've been looking for," a deputy is heard saying over the scanner.

In an online manifesto believed have been written by Dorner, he said he expected to die in one last violent confrontation with police.

Ex-LAPD Officer Chris Dorner manifesto: Read it now

LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman said Wednesday the department had returned to normal patrol operations. But about a dozen of the more than 50 protective details guarding possible Dorner targets would remain in place as San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department investigators worked to identify the remains found in the cabin.

"Recovering bodies out of burned buildings is very difficult," LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. "It's difficult to identify the remains of someone in a building and that could take days, possibly even weeks to do a DNA analysis or a forensic dental analysis depending on the condition of the body."

Along with MacKay, Dorner is suspected in the killings of Monica Quan, her fianc? Keith Lawrence, and Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain.

No word on whether the two people who were tied up are eligible for the $1.1 million reward that was being offered for Dorner's capture and conviction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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