In his final, frantic hours, clad in camouflage gear and having crashed a stolen car while fleeing police, Christopher Dorner showed a flash of empathy, reassuring a motorist whose pickup truck he wanted to carjack.
As Mr. Dorner pointed a gun at Rick Heltebrake’s head, he said “I don’t want to hurt you. Just get out and walk up the road.”
He saw that Mr. Heltebrake had a Dalmatian on the passenger side of his truck. “Take your dog and just start walking,” he said before driving off in the vehicle.
Later that day, holed up in a mountain cabin, Mr. Dorner killed a sheriff’s deputy in a gun battle and is believed to have died as the building went up in flames.
Tuesday evening’s standoff in the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains, 140 kilometres east of Los Angeles, ended a massive manhunt that had gripped Southern California for the last week, leaving four dead victims.
Hundreds of law-enforcement agents had been mobilized to track down Mr. Dorner, a former officer who had been dismissed from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009.
The barrel-chested 270-pound former Navy reservist is believed to be the author of an 11-page manifesto that said he would kill police officers until he was exonerated. “The LAPD’s actions have cost me my law enforcement career … They cost me my Naval career,” the document said.
While officials were optimistic that a charred body found in the cabin was Mr. Dorner’s, the LAPD said it would remain on tactical alert until forensic tests confirmed his death. Protective details still guarded officers whose names appeared in the manifesto.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office, meanwhile, faced questions about its handling of the standoff.
Officers at the scene could be heard yelling “Burn it down” and “Burn it down, shoot the gas,” according to audio recordings by CBS affiliate KCAL, which had the only TV crew close to the scene. Police used tear gas and a demolition vehicle that began tearing down the cabin’s walls. A single shot from inside was then heard and the blaze began, CBS reported.
“I have nothing to lose. My personal casualty means nothing,” the manifesto had warned.
Mr. Dorner’s troubles began five years ago, outside a Doubletree Hotel in the port district of Los Angeles.
The morning of July 28, 2007, Mr. Dorner and his training officer, Sergeant Teresa Evans, were called to remove a schizophrenic man loitering at the hotel.
Mr. Dorner later reported that Sgt. Evans had kicked the man in the face after they handcuffed him. However, following a series of hearings, the LAPD concluded instead that Mr. Dorner had made a false statement and fired him, according to court records.
The firing, following a long administrative and court battle, cost him not only his police job but also his Navy career, which ended this month because his police troubles had stripped him of his military security clearance, the manifesto alleges.
Two days after Mr. Dorner left the Navy, on Feb. 3, police were called to the parking of an upscale condo in Irvine, south of Los Angeles, where they found the bullet-riddled bodies of Keith Lawrence, 27, and his fiancée, Monica Quan.
The 28-year-old woman was the daughter of Randall Quan, a former LAPD officer. Now a lawyer for the police union, he had handled Mr. Dorner’s case and the manifesto was critical of his work.
According to a criminal complaint filed in California court, Irvine police identified Mr. Dorner as a suspect after finding that he had posted threats on Facebook.
Mr. Quan later received a call from someone identifying himself as Mr. Dorner, saying that he “should have done a better job” of protecting his daughter, according to the complaint.
Around 1:30 am last Thursday, an eyewitness contacted police after spotting someone who looked like Mr. Dorner at a gas station in Corona, east of Los Angeles. An LAPD patrol car arrived but the suspect escaped after firing at the officers, grazing one on the head.
The same night, in the neighbouring city of Riverside, Mr. Dorner is alleged to have fired at two officers stopped at a red light. One officer was wounded while his partner, Michael Crain, a father of two, died.
Eventually the manhunt focused on the Big Bear mountain area after Mr. Dorner’s pickup truck was found burning in nearby Arrow Bear. According to the court complaint, “a known associate of Dorner” had a relative who owned property in Arrow Bear.
For six days, a massive search unfolded in the snow-capped region, as officers looked at hundreds of empty cabins, checking for signs of break-ins. To reach mountain areas in the midst of a winterstorm, heavily armed SWAT members had to ride on a Snowcat trail groomer and an armored personnel carrier equipped with snow chains.
It is now believed that Mr. Dorner was hiding during that time in a vacant condo near the police command centre.
On Tuesday, he was surprised by two maids who arrived to clean the condo. He tied them up and drove away in their Nissan.
One of the women eventually freed herself and called police around 12:20 p.m., according to local media. The Nissan was spotted by agents on a mountain road and, after exchanging shots with Fish and Wildlife wardens, Mr. Dorner crashed the Nissan into a snowbank.
At that moment, Mr. Heltebrake, a camp ranger, was driving by when he saw Mr. Dorner run out of the forest, pointing a gun at him.
Mr. Dorner wore camouflage clothes, with a bulletproof vest that had ammunition magazines and other gear stuffed into its pouches, Mr. Heltebrake recalled in a series of television appearances Wednesday. “He was dressed for action.”
Mr. Dorner was eventually cornered at an unoccupied rental property, the Seven Oaks Mountain Cabins.
During a gunfight there, one San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy was wounded and another one killed. More officers arrived, including a heavily armed tactical squad. Video footage from CBS recorded a furious exchange of gunfire, with a SWAT officer tossing a smoke grenade to provide cover to remove the wounded deputy.
By 11 p.m., the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office confirmed that human remains had been found in the smouldering debris of the cabin.