SAN BERNARDINO (AP) — Fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner hid in a mountain condominium as a door-to-door manhunt took place outside and, after he finally made his break, apparently killed himself with a gunshot wound to the head amid a fierce gun battle with police.
Dorner is believed to have entered the condo through an unlocked door sometime Feb. 7, soon after he arrived in the area of Big Bear Lake after killing three people. He then locked the door and stayed hunkered down for six days until the condo's owners came to clean it, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told reporters Friday.
Soon after he arrived in the mountain resort area 80 miles east of Los Angeles, deputies knocked on the door but left when they found the door locked and no sign of a break-in, McMahon said.
"Our deputy knocked on that door and did not get an answer, and in hindsight it's probably a good thing that he did not answer based on his actions before and after that event," the sheriff said of Dorner.
When the owners arrived, he tied them up and fled in their car, leading to a chase, a shootout that killed a sheriff's deputy and, ultimately, Dorner, who died in a cabin where he barricaded himself for his last stand.
Police initially weren't sure if Dorner was killed by one of their bullets or by a fire that engulfed the cabin as they fired tear gas inside. Now they believe he died by his own hand as the cabin was going up in flames.
"The information that we have right now seems to indicate that the wound that took Christopher Dorner's life was self-inflicted," sheriff's Capt. Kevin Lacy told a news conference.
Lacy, McMahon and others described a fierce firefight with bullets whizzing through trees and Dorner firing on officers every time they tried to get to their wounded comrades. Authorities said he equipped his weapon with a flash suppressor, masking the sound of the gunfire and the location it was coming from as he hit two of the first deputies to arrive.
"Our officers had not even pulled their guns out at that point and were not prepared to engage anybody and they were ambushed," McMahon said.
Amid the barrage of bullets, authorities sent tear gas canisters into the cabin and it erupted in flames. After the crack of the single gunshot, investigators only heard ammunition exploding in the fire, and they later found Dorner's remains.
The search for the former cop began last week after authorities said he had launched a deadly revenge campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department for having been fired, warning in a manifesto posted on Facebook that the former Navy reservist would bring "warfare" to LAPD officers and their families.
Los Angeles police say Dorner was dismissed for filing a false police report that wrongly accused his training officer of kicking a mentally disabled man.
His first victims were Monica Quan and her fiance, both gunned down outside their Orange County condominium Feb. 3. Quan was the daughter of former LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, who had represented Dorner when he appealed his firing.
After ambushing and killing a Riverside police officer who had stopped at a traffic light, Dorner fled to the San Bernardino National Forest, where police found his burned-out truck, with a broken axle, within walking distance of the Big Bear Lake condo. It was there that he would hide out, just 100 yards from where police set up a command post from which they launched their search for him.
McMahon said Dorner entered the condo through a door left unlocked for a maintenance man and then locked it behind him. He stayed there as authorities brought in heat-seeking helicopters and bloodhounds conducted a manhunt that included a door-to-door search of vacation cabins and condos.
The sheriff emphatically supported his deputies' actions during the search, which stopped short of forcibly entering locked cabins.
"Understand we found the door locked at that condominium," he said. "My instructions were that we were not going to kick the doors open to unoccupied residences or ones where nobody answered.
"I will not allow the officers to kick doors open that belong to residents that are not home," he added. "We have no right to enter those residences, regardless of who we are looking for."
It was the condo's owners, Karen and Jim Reynolds, who finally found Dorner when they arrived Tuesday and unlocked the door that they assumed the maintenance man had locked. Dorner pointed a gun at them, tied them up and fled in their purple Nissan.
"I really thought it could be the end," Karen Reynolds said afterward. She broke free from her restraints and called 911.
Local game wardens picked up the chase some 20 miles down the road, but Dorner quickly lost them on a side road, where he carjacked a pickup truck from a man at gunpoint. As he passed other wardens, he fired on them and they took up the chase. Dorner eventually crashed the truck and ran to the cabin where died amid the flames.