BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — Police spent all night searching the snowy mountains of Southern California but were unable to find the former Los Angeles police officer accused of carrying out a killing spree because he felt he was unfairly fired from his job.
Authorities planned a midmorning Friday news conference about 80 miles east of LA at Big Bear Lake, where Christopher Dorner’s torched pickup was found Thursday. The area was under a winter storm warning, with snow falling and temperatures well below freezing.
Local ski areas were open, but Bear Valley schoolchildren had the day off because of the manhunt.
About 150 miles to the south, up to 16 San Diego County sheriff’s deputies spent the night surrounding and searching a rural home after a hoaxer reported Dorner was there. There were people at home but Dorner wasn’t one of them, said Lt. Jason Rothlein. Investigators have a pretty good idea who made the call and will be seek criminal charges, he said.
Though the focus is on the resort area, the search for Dorner, 33, stretches across California, Nevada, Arizona and northern Mexico. LAPD officers are especially on edge because Dorner, who was fired from the force in 2008 after three years on the job, promised in rambling writings to bring “warfare” to police and their families.
“We don’t know what he’s going to do,” said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, one of many law enforcement agencies whose primary purpose has become finding Dorner. “We know what he’s capable of doing. And we need to find him.”
Tracks that surrounded the truck and hours of door-to-door searching around Bear Mountain Ski Resort turned up nothing, and authorities conceded that the whereabouts of Dorner, also a former Naval reservist and onetime college running back, remained a mystery.
“He could be anywhere at this point,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, who had 125 deputies and police officers and two helicopters searching the community of Big Bear Lake, where light snow fell early Friday morning.
The saga began Sunday night, when Monica Quan, the daughter of a former Los Angeles police captain, and fiance Keith Lawrence were found shot in their car at a parking structure at their condominium in Irvine. Quan was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton.
The following morning in National City, near San Diego, some of Dorner’s belongings, including police equipment and paperwork with names related to the LAPD, were found in a trash bin.
The LAPD was notified of the find, and two days later informed Irvine police of an angry manifesto written by a former officer and posted on Facebook. Among those named as targets was Quan’s father, Randal Quan, the former LAPD captain who became an attorney who represented Dorner in his unsuccessful attempts to keep the police job he lost in 2008 for making false statements.
“Bing bing bing, the dots were connecting,” Irvine police Lt. Julia Engen said. “These names are somehow associated to Mr. Quan, who just lost his daughter the prior day. The dots connected. OK, now we’ve got a name of somebody to look at. That’s when the discovery was connected.”
On Wednesday night, Irvine and Los Angeles police announced they were searching for Dorner, declaring him armed and “extremely dangerous.” Hours later, they learned they were all too correct.
Two LAPD officers en route to provide security to one of Dorner’s possible targets were flagged down by a resident who reported seeing the suspect early Thursday at a gas station in Corona. The officers then followed a pickup truck until it stopped. The driver, believed to be Dorner, got out and fired a rifle, police said. A bullet grazed an officer’s head.
Later, two officers on routine patrol in neighboring Riverside were ambushed at a stoplight by a motorist who drove up next to them and opened fire with a rifle. One died and the other was seriously wounded but was expected to survive, said Riverside police Chief Sergio Diaz.
Thousands of heavily armed officers patrolled highways throughout Southern California, while some stood guard outside the homes of people police said Dorner vowed to attack. Electronic billboards, which usually alert motorists about the commute, urged them to call 911 if they saw him.
At a news conference held amid heightened security in an underground room at police headquarters, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck urged Dorner to surrender.
“Of course he knows what he’s doing; we trained him. He was also a member of the Armed Forces,” he said. “It is extremely worrisome and scary.”
While in the Naval Reserves, Dorner earned a rifle marksman ribbon and pistol expert medal. He was assigned to a naval undersea warfare unit and various aviation training units, according to military records, taking a leave from the LAPD to be deployed to Bahrain in 2006 and 2007.
He wrote that he would “utilize every bit of small arms training, demolition, ordinance and survival training I’ve been given,” the manifesto read.
The hunt led to two errant shootings in the pre-dawn darkness Thursday.
LAPD officers guarding a target named in the manifesto shot and wounded two women in suburban Torrance who were in a pickup truck delivering newspapers. Investigators said Maggie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were in a Toyota Tundra, similar to Dorner’s Nissan Titan. Carranza had minor hand injuries. Hernandez was hospitalized with a gunshot wound in the back. A lawyer said they had no warning.
Minutes later, Torrance officers responding to a report of gunshots encountered a dark pickup matching the description of Dorner’s, police said. A collision occurred and the officers fired on the pickup. The unidentified driver was not hit and it turned out not to be the suspect vehicle, they said.
In San Diego, where police said Dorner tied up an elderly man and unsuccessfully tried to steal his boat Wednesday night, Naval Base Point Loma was locked down Thursday after a Navy worker reported seeing someone who resembled Dorner.
Navy Cmdr. Brad Fagan said officials believe Dorner had checked into a base hotel on Tuesday and left the next day without checking out. Numerous agencies guarded the base on Thursday. Fagan said Dorner was honorably discharged and that his last day in the Navy was last Friday.
Nevada authorities also joined the search, because Dorner owns a house nine miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
And agents were inspecting a package sent to CNN’s Anderson Cooper that arrived in New York on Feb. 1, days before the first two killings. It contained a note on it that read, in part, “I never lied.” A coin typically given out as a souvenir by the police chief was also in the package, riddled with bullet holes.
Dorner’s writings suggested he did not expect to live through the ordeal.
“Unfortunately, I will not be alive to see my name cleared,” he wrote at one point in his manifesto, later saying, “Self-preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago.”