BIG BEAR, Calif. – The extraordinary manhunt for the former Los Angeles police officer suspected of three murders converged Tuesday on a mountain cabin where he was believed to have 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, and a charred body was reportedly inside.
If the man inside proves to be Christopher Dorner, the search for the most wanted man in America over the past week would have ended the way he had expected – death, with the police pursuing him.
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 officials briefed the news media under tight security with Dorner on the loose.
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.
Until Tuesday, authorities didn’t know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pickup last week.
About 12:20 p.m. Tuesday, deputies got a report of a stolen pickup truck, authorities said.
A warden for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife traveling down California 38 recognized a man who fit Dorner’s description traveling in the opposite direction.
The officer pursued the vehicle and there was a shooting at 12:42 p.m. in which the wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times and the suspect 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.
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.
The official later told the AP that a charred body was found in the burned cabin. The official requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Police say Dorner began his run 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.