LOS ANGELES – A fugitive ex-cop accused of four killings was believed to have been cornered in a mountain cabin engulfed in flames Tuesday, police said, while not confirming his death after a six-day manhunt.
Law enforcement said it was still too hot to enter the burnt-down cabin near Big Bear, east of Los Angeles, where embittered Christopher Dorner was thought to have taken refuge after being caught with a stolen vehicle.
“Any reports that the body has been identified as Christopher Dorner are not true,” said Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) spokesman Andrew Smith, denying earlier media reports that a body had been found.
“Nobody has been identified and no one has been located,” he said, declining to formally confirm the end of the lengthy manhunt that rattled nerves across southern California and beyond.
A spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office, Cindy Bachman, echoed his comments, but confirmed that the man who ended up in the cabin was believed to be Dorner.
“We had reason to believe that that was Christopher Dorner,” she told reporters, adding that, when the blaze erupted as police moved in, “we believe that he was still inside the cabin.”
“And we believe he is still inside that cabin that caught fire,” she added.
The disgruntled 33-year-old had allegedly already killed three people before going on the run last week, after posting a chilling online manifesto threatening to kill more officers.
He was cornered in the snow-covered San Bernardino mountains after nearly a week-long manhunt, which focused on Big Bear before expanding amid reported sightings elsewhere in California and a suggestion that he had fled to Mexico.
The LA Times said a single shot was heard as police moved in on the cabin, suggesting Dorner may have taken his own life, although that was not confirmed.
Officers broke the cabin windows, pumped in tear gas and called for Dorner to surrender over a loudspeaker, the LA Times said. When they got no reply, they deployed a vehicle to rip down the cabin walls.
It did so “one by one, like peeling an onion,” a law enforcement official told the newspaper. When it got to the last wall, a single gunshot was heard, before flames began to spread through the structure.
Smith, the LAPD spokesman, said the confrontation began after a vehicle was reported stolen from another cabin near Big Bear by someone who looked like Dorner.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office immediately launched a ground and air search, and located the vehicle nearby.
“Shortly thereafter, this individual barricaded himself in one of the cabins there and an exchange of gunfire occurred. During that exchange of gunfire, two officers were injured,” Smith said.
KTLA 5 said more than 200 officers had surrounded the cabin near Big Bear, where Dorner’s pickup truck was found last week shortly after the manhunt was launched.
Local media had earlier reported that the suspect had tied up a couple in a cabin before fleeing. Smith did not confirm those details and insisted that police remain on alert until Dorner is confirmed as dead or captured.
“Until Christopher Dorner has been identified as deceased or has handcuffs in jail we will continue as though he is still out there … we want to make sure that the citizens of LA are safe,” said the LAPD spokesman.
Police launched a massive manhunt last week for Dorner, after he allegedly killed a couple and a policeman, and injured another three officers, while pledging online to kill officers in revenge for his 2008 sacking.
The disgruntled ex-cop threatened to murder police and their families in his rambling manifesto, pledging to “bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty.”
Some 50 LAPD officers and families had been placed under special protection. The couple murdered two weeks ago included the daughter of a former LAPD officer linked to Dorner’s dismissal.