BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — There was no question. The man standing before Rick Heltebrake on a rural mountain road was Christopher Dorner.
Clad in camouflage from head to toe and wearing a bulletproof vest packed with magazines, the most wanted man in America over the last week was just a few feet away, having emerged from a grove of trees holding a large, assault-style rifle.
Teams of officers who had sought the fugitive ex-Los Angeles police officer since last week were closing in. Dorner pointed the gun at Heltebrake and ordered him to get out of his truck.
“I don’t want to hurt you. Start walking and take your dog,’” Heltebrake recalled Dorner saying during the carjacking Tuesday afternoon.
Dorner, who wasn’t lugging any gear, got into the truck and drove on. Heltebrake, with his 3-year-old Dalmatian Suni in tow, called police when he heard a volley of gunfire erupt soon after.
A short time later, the police had caught up with a man they believe was Dorner and surrounded a cabin in which he had barricaded himself and began a standoff that was broadcast around the world and ended with the man’s death in the burning building.
By day’s end, the man had mounted a last stand in a shootout in which he killed a sheriff’s deputy and wounded another before the building erupted in flames.
A charred body was found in the basement of the burned cabin along with a wallet and personal items, including a California driver’s license with the name Christopher Dorner, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
The coroner’s office is studying the remains to positively determine the identity. It was not clear how the cabin caught fire.
Recalling his encounter, Heltebrake said on Wednesday that he wasn’t panicked in his meeting with Dorner because he didn’t feel the fugitive wanted to hurt him. “He wasn’t wild-eyed, just almost professional,” he said. “He was on a mission.”
“It was clear I wasn’t part of his agenda and there were other people down the road that were part of his agenda,” he said.
Dorner, 33, had said in a rant that authorities believe he posted on Facebook last week that he expected to die, with the police chasing him, as he embarked on a campaign of revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing.
The apparent end came in the same mountain range where his trail went cold six days earlier, when his burning pickup truck — with guns and camping gear inside — was abandoned and on fire near the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake.
His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil.
Deputies searched door-to-door in the city of Big Bear Lake and then, in a blinding snowstorm, SWAT teams, with bloodhounds and high-tech equipment in tow, focused on scouring hundreds of vacant cabins in the forest outside of town.
With no sign of him and few leads, police offered a $1 million reward to bring him to justice and end a “reign of terror” that had more than 50 families of LAPD officers who were mentioned as targets in the rant under round-the-clock protection.
If the body proves to be Dorner, the death toll in his rampage would be four, including two police officers, one of them killed on Tuesday.
LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman said the agency had returned to normal patrol operations but about a dozen of the targets would continue to be protected until the remains are positively identified. “This really is not a celebration,” he said.