The man emerged from a charcoal-gray pickup and approached the hotel check-in counter. He wanted a room and the Internet pass code. He was 6 feet tall, with a weightlifter’s build and military posture. But he could transform his soft, round face into a picture of amiability. He struck the night manager as personable and disarming.
Inside Room 116 of the Hi View Inn & Suites in Manhattan Beach, he stared at his Facebook page and a lifetime’s worth of grudges. It is not clear how long he had labored on the unusual document on the screen.
It was a rambling, free-associating screed in which he asserted firm opinions on politicians, journalists, comedians and television shows. It was a brew of hatreds, a sustained cry of self-pity and self-justification, and a blueprint.
One touch of a button would make it public, once people knew where to look.
It was 1:15 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 4.
Hours earlier, Irvine Police Det. Victoria Hurtado was crouched in the evening chill, studying an enormous diamond ring on a dead woman’s hand. It was one of her first clues. “This is not a robbery,” she thought.
The victim was in the passenger seat of a white Kia Optima, parked on the rooftop lot of an upmarket condo complex on Scholarship Drive. She was Asian, in a pretty blue dress. Beside her, a young black man was slumped over the steering wheel. Both were riddled with bullets, with fatal shots to the back of their heads.
Stepping carefully amid 14 shell casings scattered on the pavement, Hurtado noticed powder burns around the bullet holes in the windows. It was a close-range ambush, and as cold a scene as the detective had seen in 17 years on the force.
There was no evidence of a fight. It was as if the killer, possessed by an impersonal fury, had not known the victims at all.
Hurtado looked up at the high-rise apartments that towered above the garage. Hundreds of people would have had a plain view of the shooting, if they had peered out their windows. Hundreds should have heard it.
Five floors below, news crews were assembling. Murder was startling news in Irvine, which boasted of being America’s safest midsized city — 65 square miles of gleaming corporate parks and master-planned neighborhoods.
Just after midnight, the department received a call. It was from Randal Quan, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain. He had seen the news and recognized the condo complex. His 28-year-old daughter, Monica, lived there with her 26-year-old fiance, Keith Lawrence.
Quan had grown increasingly worried. He had been trying to call his daughter. She was not answering. He came to the Irvine police station with his wife and grown son. They were a close family. Detectives led them to a private interview room.
Quan described his daughter. He had seen her earlier that day. She had been wearing a blue dress.
Neither Monica Quan nor Keith Lawrence seemed capable of making an enemy.
He had been a security officer at USC. She had coached women’s basketball at Cal State Fullerton.
A few days earlier, Lawrence had asked her to close her eyes as he led her into their condo. He had arranged rose petals on the carpet in the shape of a heart. He knelt and asked her to marry him.
“There’s no one more right for us than each other,” he told her, in a scene captured on tape by her brother. “You are my winning lottery ticket.”
Perhaps because she had grown up as a police captain’s daughter, she was guarded about her personal life, even with the young women she coached. But before a team trip to San Luis Obispo she had displayed the big diamond engagement ring and enjoyed the screams of excitement.
Detectives considered every possible theory. They scoured police logs for reports of road rage, on the chance that an aggrieved driver had followed the young couple home. They talked to neighbors and friends, co-workers and family members.
They asked Randal Quan who might want to hurt his daughter. He had been the first Chinese American captain at the LAPD, and had run a squad targeting Asian gangs. In recent years, he had worked as a lawyer representing cops facing termination.
Did someone hate him enough to do this? Someone he had busted? A disgruntled client?
Quan struggled. He could think of no one. He saw himself as a cop who had been respectful to people he arrested. Even losing clients knew he had fought for them.
No one had heard anything. A police canvas of the condominium complex and surrounding buildings confirmed that baffling fact.
The couple had pulled onto the rooftop during the final dramatic minutes of the Super Bowl, when traffic was light. The entry gate recorded their arrival about 7:30 p.m. But police had not learned about the shootings until 9:10 p.m., when a resident walking to his car spotted a body slumped over the Kia’s steering wheel.
How had 14 shots gone unheard? Had everybody been that fixated on the game?
Det. Hurtado would have to wait for ballistics tests to be sure, but she began to suspect that the killer had used a silencer. It was an expensive piece of equipment, the province of Hollywood spies and assassins, not real-world killers.
The possibility carried with it a sense of dread. Who were they dealing with? A professional hit man? The mob?
As the department’s 18-member detective squad scrambled after leads, an investigator visited Cal State Fullerton and found a compelling clue — its significance clear only in hindsight — that someone had been stalking Monica Quan.
A few days earlier, a man had called the athletic department from a blocked number. He said his daughter played for the women’s basketball team, but he was unable to reach her because her cellphone was not working.
He asked for the name of the hotel the team was using during its trip to San Luis Obispo. The request was refused. Would he care to give a callback number? The man hung up.
About 100 miles south of Irvine, Pedro Ruelas, 32, arrived at Sound Solutions Auto Styling to open for business Monday morning.
Some DUI arrests had cost him his job driving forklifts years back, by his account, and now he worked seven days a week at the small auto-repair lot in downtown National City, a few miles north of the Mexican border. He was the first one in, last one out.
And so, as he did every morning, Ruelas emptied the garbage, wheeling one of the gray trash cans to a small graffiti-scrawled garbage bin in the alley next to the lot.
As he approached the bin, he noticed what looked like police or military equipment lying atop the heap. Most striking was a steel-plated ballistic vest. The shape reminded him of the emblem on Superman's chest.
His first thought was that he might be able to sell the gear. But he reconsidered: The police might want to know about so unusual a find. He flagged down the first cop he saw.
Officer Paul Hernandez pulled on latex gloves and began to look.
One ballistic vest.
Two military-style ammunition cans, each with several hundred bullets.
Two cans of olive-drab spray paint, the kind SWAT members use to camouflage their helmets and rifles.
One military-surplus gasoline container, plastic, empty.
Two mortar-tube containers, empty. One black leather police duty belt, with thigh holsters and an expandable baton.
Two AR-15 magazine pouches.
One dark blue LAPD uniform, extra large.
One police officer’s field notebook, with a cover bearing two handwritten names and serial numbers:
Hernandez placed the gear carefully in his squad car and drove to the station house.
He carried the equipment downstairs to the property room and began labeling the items for storage. Another officer might have simply filed a Found Property report and forgotten about it.
Hernandez feared that another cop had been the victim — that someone had stolen the equipment and dumped it in a panic.
At 10:16 a.m. he told the dispatcher to call the LAPD to run down the names and numbers on the notebook.
The answer came back quickly. There was no Dorner now on the force. But there was an Evans.
In keeping with her prework ritual, Teresa Evans had driven to the beach that Monday morning, drank a leisurely cup of coffee and read the Los Angeles Times on her iPad. She saw a brief story about the double homicide in Irvine.
Evans was 48, with short, dyed blond hair, an 18-year veteran of the LAPD. She was a field sergeant, athletically built but physically unimposing, five feet tall, 115 pounds. On the street, her bulky utility belt made her seem even smaller.
Off duty, she spent much of her time hauling her teenage son and his teammates to soccer practice.
Right now, as she was preparing for her late-morning run on the beach, her phone rang.
“I’m just calling about some property,” Officer Hernandez said.
She listened to the strange account of the discarded items. No, she said, she had not been the victim of a theft.
She heard the name Dorner. Anxiety gripped her.
Christopher Dorner had been her trainee six years ago, she said, a problem cop who had been fired. She had no clue where he was now, or why his gear would be in a National City trash bin.
She and Dorner had shared a patrol car in San Pedro, near the ports. He had been a probationary officer just back from a year overseas with the Navy.
She thought little of his abilities. He was sloppy and ham-fisted. He had accidentally shot himself in the hand at the Police Academy. Once, responding to a “man with a gun” call, he had walked directly toward the suspect without seeking cover.
He told Evans that the LAPD had discriminated against him as a black man, and that he intended to sue. He wept in the patrol car. She saw him as unstable, perpetually angry and frustrated, eager to see racism in every encounter.
After she warned him that he needed to improve his policework, Dorner filed a complaint that she had kicked a handcuffed, mentally ill man in the head and chest during an arrest outside a hotel. During the resulting internal investigation, Evans was put on desk duty and prevented from working overtime or off-duty security jobs. She described the ordeal as a “nightmare.”
The LAPD interviewed hotel employees, who said they had seen none of the alleged kicks. The LAPD found it fatal to Dorner’s credibility that he had waited two weeks after the incident before complaining.
He sat before a Board of Rights hearing in December 2008, accused of making the story up. That session took place on the fifth floor of the Bradbury Building downtown, a place informally called “The Ovens.” It is where, police said, they went to get burned.
Dorner was deemed a liar and fired. Evans knew he held her responsible. She recalled the way he had looked at her during the hearing.
It was not a scowl, not a grimace of anger, but something spookier. Her lawyer described it as the “stare of somebody whose mind is racing 100 miles an hour.”
Armed guards stood watch as Dorner was led from the building.
For the next six months, she had carried her service Glock everywhere. She wore it to the bathroom, to the grocery store, to her son’s soccer games. When she drove home, she circled the block to make sure Dorner wasn’t following her, or waiting to ambush her.
Sooner or later, she believed, he would try to find her.
Evans said goodbye to the National City officer and hung up. She was no longer in the mood for her morning run. She wasn’t sure what to do with the information he had given her, or what it might mean.
She supervised the graveyard shift on Venice Beach that night, the phone call never far from her thoughts.
“Is anybody going out?”
The man asking the question stood on a weather-beaten old pier at Driscoll’s Wharf, amid the motley fleet of squid and swordfish boats in Point Loma. It was Tuesday morning.
Dockhand Jeremy Smith noticed the stranger’s shaved head, military boots and hulking size, and thought he must be from Naval Base San Diego, a few miles south. He did not look like the ordinary visitor. Big black dude, he thought. That’s way out of place.
Smith, 41, found the stranger friendly and likable.
He did not seem like the hard men he had met during his stints in lockup for DUI arrests, nor like the men he lived with now at a halfway house.
The big stranger gave his name as Mike, and said he would soon be sent to war in Afghanistan. He wanted to get in some fishing first. He was willing to pay $200 to fish in Mexican waters.
Smith thought he should help a man heading to war. He led him around the docks, past the stacks of steel-mesh lobster cages and piles of netting, looking for a boat.
Nobody was going out for marlin and swordfish; the water was cold, the fish lethargic. One captain found it odd that a man headed to war would want to spend time fishing, rather than with a woman.
Why not a sport boat? Smith asked the stranger. Why not whale-watching?
“I don’t want to whale-watch,” the stranger replied.
The stranger disappeared and came back with a bag of yellowtail and halibut tacos.
He passed them out to the men on Pier 6 and refused to take their money.
Smith explained that he couldn’t take him out on the water himself, because the terms of his jail release didn’t allow him to leave the harbor. He couldn’t risk being spotted by the Harbor Patrol.
“Nazis,” Smith said.
The stranger sympathized. He had a friend who had been fired from the police force, he said, and he didn’t like cops.
That afternoon, Teresa Evans drove to the LAPD’s Pacific Area station to begin her overnight shift. She suited up and led roll call for the eight officers under her command. She and her crew headed to their cars, preparing their gear.
She overheard a group of cops chatting nearby. The subject was an officer’s upcoming disciplinary hearing. The officer needed strong representation, someone said — a good lawyer like Randal Quan, the former LAPD captain turned attorney.
Quan wouldn’t be available any time soon, another cop said.
“His daughter was murdered.”
The hair prickled on the back of Evans’ neck. She felt vaguely sick.
Until now, she hadn’t known that the young woman shot to death in Irvine two nights ago had been Quan’s daughter.
She remembered that Quan had represented Dorner at his Board of Rights hearing, and she knew that Dorner had blamed everyone involved for his firing, including his lawyer. Was there a connection, somehow, to the stash of Dorner’s gear in the trash bin?
It was a busy night on the Venice beach detail. Fights, drunks, homeless calls. But her mind returned repeatedly to the possibility that Dorner had killed the young Irvine couple.
No, she told herself. It’s too much of a long-shot.
At the station house that night, she paused in her paperwork and told another cop, “Let me run this by you.”
The other cop listened and said, “You’ve got to call.”
By 11:15 p.m. Evans was on the phone with the Irvine Police Department’s watch commander, who called the home of the detective-squad sergeant, who promptly called Evans to hear her story.
“This might be crazy,” she began.
Det. Hurtado arrived at the Irvine station before dawn Wednesday. Her sergeant held out a piece of yellow notebook paper bearing Christopher Dorner’s name.
Hurtado ran it through the databases. He had no criminal record. He was a Navy reservist. He owned a Nissan Titan pickup. He had a house in Las Vegas. He had a mother and sister in La Palma, south of Los Angeles. He owned a lot of guns, including 9-millimeter Glocks. The shell casings at the murder scene had been 9-millimeter.
She sent two detectives to National City to examine Dorner’s gear. They learned that an employee at a second auto shop — just down the alley from the first — had found more of Dorner’s equipment in a trash bin. A SWAT-style helmet. A military-style backpack. A magazine with 9-millimeter bullets.
Detectives located a surveillance camera that showed Dorner pulling into the alley in his Titan early Monday, the morning after the shootings. He could be seen climbing out to toss away the items. He seemed to be in no rush.
He had picked an alley in plain view of the National City police station, as if he had hoped to be spotted and confronted.
Back in Irvine, detectives drafted search warrants for Dorner’s home and his mother’s home. If they found him, they were intent on taking him in. But they were not sure they had enough to charge him with murder.
They sought a stopgap measure, to hold him as the case was being built. They found it in the expandable baton Dorner had cast away. He could be charged with possession of a prohibited weapon. When he lost his badge, he had lost his right to carry it.
Hurtado placed calls to the LAPD, trying to find Dorner’s personnel file. She kept getting voice mails. People were out of the office, or on vacation.
She left her call-back number, and tried to keep the details vague. She had no contacts at the LAPD; as far as she knew, Dorner might still have friends there. If she didn’t proceed cautiously, someone might alert him to her interest.
Then she called Randal Quan, and asked:
Does the name Christopher Dorner mean anything to you?
She heard silence. Then she heard him gasp and say, “Oh my God. That guy’s crazy.”
Quan explained that he had represented Dorner at his Board of Rights hearing. He said Dorner had blamed him for his firing and was a man obsessed with the concept of his own integrity. He possessed “kind of a hero syndrome,” Quan said.
In her notebook, the detective wrote:
Hurtado called one of the slain couple’s friends. During the conversation, an email arrived on her desktop computer. It was from a detective down the hall conducting a Web search. It had a link to Dorner’s Facebook page.
“From: Christopher Jordan Dorner
“Subj: Last resort
“I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders and have taken drastic and shocking actions in the last couple of days,” the posting began.
“Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name. The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse....”
It was 1:59 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 6. Hurtado hung up and called Quan to tell him he was in danger.
Dozens of detectives were getting the same email, reading it on desktops and smartphones. Down the hall, Irvine’s police chief was meeting with his command staff. The detective sergeant ran over and stuck his head in.
“I need some help,” he said.
Just after 2 p.m. at the LAPD’s sleek, 10-story glass tower, the phones began beeping furiously.
Police in Irvine, an hour south, had alerted their Los Angeles counterparts to a terrifying Facebook post. Its author, a disgraced LAPD patrolman, had vowed to murder his former colleagues en masse.
His targets ran through the ranks. Patrol officers were targets. Sergeants were targets. Captains were targets. The chief was a target. Families were targets.
It was Wednesday, Feb. 6. An impromptu war room sprang up on the fifth floor of LAPD’s downtown headquarters. Detectives in the robbery-homicide squad tore through Christopher Dorner’s online tirade and tallied the names on a white board. They quickly counted 30 people who needed protection.
Sirens screamed across freeways in every direction. About 200 cops went in the first wave of protection details. Specialized units were the easiest to mobilize, so gang squads went. Vice squads went. Twenty off-duty cops from the elite Metro division went. Ordinary patrol cops went.
The potential victims were scattered across thousands of square miles — across L.A. County’s far-flung suburbs, from its northern edge to deep inside Orange County, from the beach cities in the west to Riverside County in the east.
Every target would get a “scarecrow” detail: At least two cops, uniformed and visible. There was no time to ask permission of the many local police agencies whose territories the LAPD would be entering, no time to debate or negotiate.
Get there! commanders barked into radios and cellphones. Go! We’ll clean it up later!
Dorner’s 11,000-word document, which people began calling “the manifesto,” was all at once a confession, an extended threat and a summing-up of the life its 33-year-old author soon expected to depart.
It was an open letter to America, and a ramble through pop culture, politics and personal grievance.
How accurately the document reflected the facts of his life is unclear. But it vividly illustrated how he perceived his life. He was a prideful man who believed the world had failed to recognize his great gifts. Victimhood was his singular theme.
No one grows up and wants to be a cop killer, he wrote. It was against everything I’ve ever been....
Dorner was raised in a series of middle-class cities where, as one of the few black kids, he felt like an outsider: Cerritos, Pico Rivera, La Palma, Thousand Oaks. His mother was a nurse. His father was absent.
In first grade at Norwalk Christian School, he wrote, the principal swatted him for punching a student who had taunted him with a racial slur. The swattings from authority figures continued through junior high, he claimed, when he dared to stand up to bigots.
When he arrived at the LAPD, he wrote, he found it a nest of racists. In the Police Academy, he complained about another recruit’s use of a racial slur and was shunned. On patrol with the LAPD, he complained that his training officer had kicked a mentally ill man, and in response the department conspired to destroy him. He had dared, he said, to violate the Code of Silence.
He vowed to hunt members of the Board of Rights who had heard his case. He would hunt the LAPD hierarchy that had sanctioned his punishment. He was convinced that his former lawyer, Randal Quan, had been loyal to the LAPD rather than to him. He would hunt him and his loved ones.
I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours...
He bragged of his marksmanship and tactical prowess. He would kill Caucasian officers who victimized minorities. He would kill black officers who belittled their Caucasian subordinates and fueled anti-black bigotry. He would kill Latino officers who victimized other Latinos. He would kill lesbian officers who degraded men.
He praised his knee surgeon, President Obama, the first lady’s hairstyle, George W. Bush, Charlie Sheen, Chick-fil-A chicken and Bill Cosby. He told Gov. Chris Christie to go on a diet, and told David Petraeus that his marital failings were human. He told Natalie Portman she was beautiful. He quoted Mia Farrow on the moral urgency of gun control.
He knew he would die, and lamented what he would not get to see. He would miss “The Hangover III,” and told the director not to diminish the franchise with another sequel. He would miss season three of “The Walking Dead.” He would miss Shark Week.
From his 10th-floor office, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was trying to coordinate the agency’s response and keep his family safe. He called his wife and told her to assemble the family at home, fast.
“He has a vendetta list,” he said. “We’re on it.”
Beck had not been chief when Dorner was fired, but he was the public face of the department. Two of Beck’s kids wore LAPD badges. He ordered them pulled off duty.
Chief Beck, Dorner had written, this is when you need to have that come to Jesus talk with Sgt. Teresa Evans and everyone else who was involved in the conspiracy to have me terminated for doing the right thing....
Studying Dorner’s words, Beck thought, “He’s an injustice collector.” He blamed everyone else for his failures.
Beck was struck by the length of the tirade. This was no fleeting howl of homicidal rage but the chilling product, it seemed, of months-long planning and forethought.
Dorner had invoked the most highly charged controversies of the LAPD’s past. The beating of Rodney King. The Rampart scandal. The specter of Mark Fuhrman.
As chief for more than three years, Beck had helped to transform the 10,000-officer department. In black neighborhoods, its image as an occupying army had abated. Its 11% of black officers now roughly mirrored the city’s demographics.
Yet Beck understood, even at a glance, the combustible elements at play. True or false, Dorner’s accusations would resonate with people predisposed to believe them. And so today the chief turned to his media spokesman and asked:
“Is this the thing?”
He did not need to explain. He meant the thing that spiraled out of control so badly that it forced him from his job. He reckoned the odds at 50-50 that it would happen someday.
Everyone who served as chief in the nation’s second-largest city woke up knowing today might be the day.
Beck sometimes wondered what his predecessor, Daryl F. Gates, had thought on first viewing the grainy footage of his white officers beating Rodney King. Beck had been a sergeant on the front lines in 1992 when the cops were acquitted and rioting swept the city.
Gates had been untouchable. Then he was gone.
Now, a man the LAPD had trained was promising to bring war to its doorstep. If the public turned against the LAPD in the days ahead, Beck knew, he would have to take the blame himself.
“None of us bury our past,” he would say. “You don’t bury it. You carry it.”
Teresa Evans, Dorner’s former training officer, was sitting in her SUV when she got the call. She was outside her home in a Los Angeles suburb, about to leave for her son’s soccer game.
“It’s a credible threat,” an Irvine sergeant was telling her.
She looked around quickly. Would Dorner be coming around the corner, gun blazing? It would be easy for him to find her here. She had to get away, fast.
Her cellphone rang again. Two LAPD captains told her they were sending protection to meet her, and would call her back with a rendezvous point.
“Stay mobile,” they said. “Don’t go home.”
She drove to the soccer field. There, she met her ex-husband and explained. He would watch their son for now. She hoped that if Dorner came, he would come only after her.
Back on the road, she checked the mirrors constantly. She recalled Dorner bragging about his experience in military intelligence. Was he monitoring her phone’s GPS? She flipped abrupt U-turns. She pulled onto the freeway, pulled off, pulled on.
She steered with her left hand, so her right could quickly grab her duty Glock, squeezed in its holster between the driver’s seat and the center console.
She called a hotel in Orange County and booked a room. She headed that way.
Her phone rang again. A security team would meet her in a church parking lot near her home.
She drove to the meeting point, but there were no officers in sight. She waited nearby, her gun close.
Then help came screaming down the block, a pack of patrol cars — 10 or more, she guessed — roaring her way.
Soon there were cops with assault rifles in Teresa Evans’ living room, in her kitchen, ringing her house. They drew the curtains and covered the windows with blankets. They shoved the couch against the window of her son’s room, unscrewed the porch lights and deactivated the motion sensors.
She still did not feel safe. She feared that Dorner might take aim from a freeway visible from her window.
You destroyed my life and name because of your actions, he had written. Time is up.
She dumped her Facebook page. She turned off her phone’s GPS tracker.
When her son came hobbling through the door, his ankle injured during the afternoon’s soccer game, she tried to explain the presence of the SWAT team in vague terms.
Something is going on, she said, and everything will be OK.
She did not say, “Someone wants to murder us.”
People who had known Dorner for years were shocked to see his smiling face on fliers and television screens. One of them was a San Diego police officer named Dulani Jackson. He had been friends with Dorner since they had attended Cypress High School.
Jackson, who is also black, said Dorner had complained about being bullied by racists at his former high school in La Palma. Dorner liked to say that if a girl disrespected him, he would beat up her boyfriend. Or take it out on her family.
After Dorner’s firing from the LAPD in 2009, Jackson had driven to Dorner’s home in Vegas to keep him company. He found him in a deep depression. Dorner blamed the LAPD for tarnishing his name and thereby sabotaging his career in the Navy. Only two days before the Irvine killings, the Navy had officially discharged him.
Dorner had abruptly cut Jackson out of his life, with a text citing a litany of long-simmering grievances. He resented that Jackson hadn’t attended his graduation from Southern Utah University. He resented that Jackson hadn’t visited him in the hospital, after he shot himself in the hand in the Police Academy.
Jackson could picture Dorner alone in his Vegas home, isolated from family, cut off from friends, with nothing to do but seethe. He knew that Dorner had started buying silencers about a year ago. That, he reasoned, was probably when he began to plan his murder campaign.
Like Jackson, many who knew Dorner understood that his memory for slights — real or imagined — was vast. He was always adding up the score.
A former girlfriend, Denise Jensen, remembered that he had been a perfect gentleman at first. He liked to open doors for her. He bought her a nice watch and an iPod. In a tantrum, he seized the gifts and gave them to a stranger at a gas station. Worthier of my kindness, he explained.
He made friends effortlessly but turned on them in an instant. “You just don’t know until he starts turning,” Jensen said.
In July 2009, months after their breakup, Dorner logged onto Facebook and used a fake name — “Mike Crawford” — to lure her to a date at a Las Vegas restaurant. He cornered her in the ladies room and left only after staff threatened to call police.
Another ex-girlfriend had posted a warning on the website Don’tDateHimGirl.com, saying: “If you value your sanity, stay away from this guy.” She described him as “super paranoid always thinking somebody’s out to get him.”
When people asked Dorner about the multitude of firearms he kept close at hand, he would reply that trouble might come any time. J’Anna Hendricks, a manicurist who briefly rented a room from him, discovered guns hidden in the couch cushions.
At first, she found him a model of friendliness. He took her to dinner. She was white, and he jokingly called her a cracker. She called him a wheat cracker and said he was the whitest black guy she knew. She thought it was good fun, though she sensed it annoyed him.
One day he invited her to his room and displayed his laptop. On it were naked photos of himself and some of his girlfriends. He seemed to be testing whether she would sleep with him. She left the room fast. Soon afterward, Dorner stormed into her room and screamed, “I want you out tonight!”
In recent months, Dorner had frequented the Lahaina Grill on the outskirts of Vegas, a dimly lit restaurant where he sat with his back against the wall. He drank bottled water and ate sushi, sharing YouTube clips on his MacBook with other patrons and holding forth on politics.
He said he favored background checks for assault-rifle purchasers, including cops. “Hey,” he told a bartender, “we can snap.”
On Wednesday night, not far from the wharf where he had been trying to charter a boat to Mexican waters, the fugitive walked onto the docks of the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego.
The ungated club was at the end of an out-of-the-way, affluent neighborhood. A yacht called Vivere II was moored in slip A20.
Inside, the 81-year-old owner, Carlos Caprioglio, was watching television. He would later tell police that he heard footsteps but was not automatically alarmed. He assumed it was his wife, returning from a trip to Los Angeles.
Then Dorner was there, pointing a black semiautomatic handgun at him. “I don’t want to kill you,” he said, “but you’re gonna take me to Mexico.”
Dorner took hold of the rope that moored the boat to the dock. A boater of even casual experience knew to throw the rope onto the dock. Instead, Dorner threw it into the water.
Dorner ordered Caprioglio to start the boat. The rope became entangled in the prop. They weren’t going anywhere. It seemed to dawn on Dorner that he had botched his plan.
“Take my car keys,” Caprioglio said. “Take my car.”
“I don’t want to be on the streets,” Dorner said.
He found a pair of Caprioglio’s shoes, and removed the laces. He ordered him to lie face-down, with his right cheek pressed to the sun deck. He tied his hands and feet with the laces, stole his cellphone and disappeared.
By the time Caprioglio had freed himself and had summoned help, just before 10 p.m, Dorner was gone.
With SWAT troops sitting in her darkened living room drinking soda, Teresa Evans crawled under her bedcovers Wednesday night. She thought this would prevent Dorner from seeing the glow of her iPhone — just in case he was out there, watching and waiting for his shot.
“He’s going to shoot me through my window and kill me,” she kept thinking.
All night she traded texts with cops and friends, searching for any scrap of news. She knew she wouldn’t sleep.
Her son was down the hall. To make things easier on him, she had assured him: “It’s going to be over by tomorrow.”
This was a mistake she would make more than once.
Michael Crain’s wife demanded one thing of him, whenever he put on his uniform, secured his badge on his chest and patrolled the streets of Riverside overnight.
He had to text her that he was OK. If she woke she could glance at her phone and take reassurance. He thought the ritual was silly, because he might run into trouble five minutes later, but he did it anyway.
On the night of Wednesday, Feb. 6, as he did before every shift, Crain, 34, took pains to shed every vestige of his non-cop identity. He made sure there were no family photos in his wallet, in case it flopped open in a chase. He took off his wedding ring and put it on his nightstand.
In the streets, it was best to be a man without vulnerabilities.
Suspects would see a muscular, buzz-cut, 6-foot-3 ex-Marine. Not a father who coached his 10-year-old son’s baseball team, made his 4-year-old daughter breakfast every morning and learned to tie her ponytail. Not a man who liked the Food Network, Lynyrd Skynyrd and wearing zebra-striped platform shoes to disco parties.
A suspect had tried to follow him home once. This was safer.
Regina Crain had guessed he was ex-military the day they met, from the way he held out his chest and kept his hair high-and-tight. He had left the Marines before 9/11 and felt guilty he hadn’t stayed to fight, but she was glad he had avoided war. Her first husband had fought in Fallujah, and she had seen too many military funerals.
Tonight, she watched him pack his duffel bag for work — backup gun, badge clip, loose change, hair gel, boot polish, Tums. She knew that he liked the graveyard shift, because it was rarely dull, and that he would be disappointed if he came home saying, “I didn’t find any bad guys.”
Tonight was his last shift with an officer he was training named Andrew Tachias, and he had reassured her that he was an alert, safety-conscious cop. “He’s good to go,” he said. “I’m basically just teaching him paperwork.”
She stood on the stairway step, to reach him, and kissed him and told him to hurry home. They were approaching their second wedding anniversary. She knew he liked to get to work an hour before his 10 p.m. roll call, so he could dress at his locker and practice quick-drawing his gun.
A fanatic for safety, Michael Crain lectured his family never to leave a purse or a Gameboy in the car in plain view. At the mall, his kids knew to avoid his gun-hand side, in case the wrong person recognized him.
Before she went to sleep that night, Regina Crain checked her Facebook page. She saw that police were chasing someone named Christopher Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer who had vowed revenge against his former agency and had killed two people in Irvine.
She didn’t think much about it. Los Angeles was a full hour’s drive west.
At 11:43 p.m. she texted her husband: “Good night sexy man!”
She knew that if she woke up in the middle of the night, his reply would be waiting for her, assuring her he was OK.
In the small hours of that Thursday morning, a self-employed repo man stricken with bladder cancer was beginning work about an hour east of L.A.
Lee McDaniel, 49, the son of a retired Cleveland cop, had just left the side of his sleeping wife. Now he pulled his big Chevrolet truck up to a pump at the Arco station on Weirick Road in Corona.
Since the cancer had invaded his cells, he often felt weak, but he was determined not to lie on the couch and wither away. Work kept him busy and got his mind off his illness.
His first eight-hour chemotherapy session was to begin later that morning. He was on the road now because he wanted to exhaust himself, in order to sleep soundly as the machine pumped poison into his arm.
But first he had a few hours’ work to get through, so he activated the gas pump and let it run as he walked into the AM/PM minimart to buy bottles of 5-Hour Energy. Standing in line at the counter, he felt what he described as a “hulking presence” come up behind him.
He turned. The man behind him was as big as a linebacker. They exchanged a quick look. McDaniel thought he looked vaguely familiar — maybe a neighbor, maybe someone he knew from years of coaching Little League.
McDaniel walked back to his truck, holstered the pump and slid behind the wheel. He was pulling past the door of the minimart just as the large man emerged, walking in front of the truck.
Mounted on the hood of McDaniel’s truck were four license plate recognition cameras with telltale lights, the kind police use to track down stolen cars and repo men use to find cars to repossess. He saw the big man notice them.
Their eyes locked. McDaniel saw the man walk toward a charcoal-gray Nissan Titan at one of the pumps. It had a roof rack, aftermarket black rims and tinted windows.
McDaniel had seen the news. He knew Christopher Dorner was driving a Titan.
McDaniel was unarmed but accustomed to confrontations and able to function under stress. He pulled slowly past the Titan, and stuck his head out the window to get a look at the license plate. It started with an 8.
He remembered that Dorner’s plate started with a 7, according to police. His truck was also supposed to be blue, and this one was gray.
McDaniel stopped his truck at the edge of the lot, close enough to escape down the street if the Titan owner pulled a gun. On his smartphone, he brought up a story about Dorner and found the plate police were distributing: 7X03191.
He typed it into his laptop, running it through a plate database. Up came a photo of a gray Nissan Titan. Roof rack, cover. It was the truck at the pump behind him.
The police had the color wrong, and McDaniel assumed Dorner had switched plates.
Now, he noticed Dorner watching him, standing at the Titan’s open door, holding something McDaniel couldn’t see.
McDaniel pulled onto Weirick Road. He made a U-turn. He parked across the street from the gas station.
He thought Dorner might follow him. Instead, Dorner turned right out of the station, hooked another quick right and disappeared.
McDaniel was trying to call police when he saw an LAPD patrol car pull off Interstate 15 and head into the gas station. He flashed his lights, to signal them, and drove over the median to meet them.
The officers were in Corona to protect one of Dorner’s targets. The guy you’re looking for was just here, McDaniel said.
At that moment, the Titan reappeared. Dorner drove past the gas station and pulled onto a freeway on-ramp.
“That’s him,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel saw one of the officers drop his notebook and radio as he hurried to the patrol car. McDaniel picked them up and tossed them into the police car.
The officers followed Dorner onto Interstate 15, heading north, hanging back a safe distance. They were trying to confirm it was Dorner’s truck.
Five miles along, the patrol car followed Dorner down the Magnolia Avenue offramp to the street. Dorner was waiting at the curb beside his parked truck. He opened fire with his assault rifle, riddling the patrol car with .223-caliber rounds.
The officers ducked. They tried to fire back with their handguns, futilely. Dorner was about 100 feet away, with firepower that vastly overwhelmed them. His rounds pierced the squad car’s windshield, punctured a tire, blew out the radiator. It was immobilized in seconds. One bullet grazed an officer’s head. Dorner sped away down Magnolia.
The officers’ radios were out of LAPD broadcast range. They had to rely on cellphones, one of them borrowed from a passing motorist. The delay probably cost minutes in sending a warning.
The 911 call went in at 1:24 a.m.
About 10 miles east, Michael Crain and his trainee, Andrew Tachias, were sitting at a red light in their Riverside Police Department patrol car. It was foggy at the intersection of Magnolia and Arlington avenues.
They had ridden together a month, and shared an easy camaraderie. Tachias had plans to marry. His father was an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, who had excited his son’s boyhood imagination with stories of the job and then tried to talk him out of wearing a badge because of the toll it took on a man’s personal life.
Tachias’ favorite film was “End of Watch,” a violent, harrowing cop drama about a pair of L.A. cops on the job. He watched it before shifts, to psych himself up.
Tonight, Tachias was in the driver’s seat, Crain in the passenger seat. To their left, also stopped at the red light, a 42-year-old Riverside man sat in a Chevrolet Cavalier with flaking paint and missing hubcaps. He was a food-truck driver returning home from work. He glanced at Tachias, who smiled, looking like a man who loved his job.
It was just after 1:30 a.m. Inside the squad car, the radio crackled with news: Dorner was in the area and headed their way.
Parked at the red light, on the other side of the intersection, a 33-year-old man named Karam Kaoud was sitting alone inside a white Crown Victoria with the words BELL CAB CO. on the door.
A Palestinian raised in Dubai, Kaoud had been an American citizen for four months and driving a cab for six. He had a degree in mechanical engineering from Cal State Northridge, but couldn’t find work in the field.
So he put in 15-hour shifts in his father’s cab, often covering 400 miles across Riverside and San Bernardino counties. It was supposed to be temporary.
His father worried about graveyard-shift muggers and crazies. He had called this morning and said, “Please be careful.”
“Inshallah,” Kaoud had replied. God willing. “Don’t worry, Dad.”
A devout Muslim, the cabbie kept the Koran in the glovebox and prayed five times a day. When he couldn’t get to the mosque, he removed the car’s floor mat and flipped it over on the pavement of a quiet parking lot. Then he knelt, a smartphone app pointing him to Mecca.
He lived with his wife, parents, two sisters and his four-month-old son. He had just dropped off a customer at a Denny’s and decided to head to a downtown Riverside restaurant to wait for fares.
As he pulled out of the restaurant parking lot onto Madison Street, he debated which way to go. It made sense to turn right, which would take him to the 91 Freeway and get him there fast. It didn’t make sense to turn left, because the stoplights on Magnolia might cost him three extra minutes.
For reasons he couldn’t explain, he had turned left. That is why he was here at this hour, facing a Riverside police car across an intersection.
He was preoccupied with his GPS when he half-noticed the Nissan Titan pulling up on his right. Then he saw the Titan moving forward, as if the light had turned green.
Reflexively, he took his foot off the brake and began to follow. Then he stopped. The light was still red. He watched the Titan cross the intersection and pull up beside the food-truck driver’s Cavalier and the patrol car. At first, he did not understand what he was seeing.
He watched the cold air warped by the heat from a rifle muzzle, just outside the open window of the Titan’s driver’s-side window. The driver was firing over the hood of the Cavalier at the patrol car, in quick, muted bursts.
Within seconds, the Titan was pulling away down Magnolia.
The bullet-riddled patrol car rolled slowly into the intersection.
The cabbie jumped out. Inside the patrol car, he saw the wide-open eyes of Officer Tachias as he sat paralyzed behind the wheel, struggling to breathe, his foot off the brake. He noticed Officer Crain sitting bolt-straight in the passenger seat, completely still.
The cabbie had not heard the name Dorner, and he avoided trouble. He did not know if he could touch a police car; he might be sued. Still, he reached into the car and forced the gear shift into park, producing a grating sound as the car stopped.
He touched Tachias’ shoulder and asked what he could do.
“The radio,” the policeman managed to say. “The radio.”
The cabbie reached for the walkie-talkie at Tachias’ side.
“The other radio,” the policeman said. He meant the walkie-talkie on the dashboard.
The cabbie grabbed it. He pushed the button on the side. He held it to Tachias’ lips. Tachias struggled to form the words.
“Officer down,” he said. He looked at his motionless partner.
The cabbie knew how to work the radio, because he had one just like it, but in his fear his finger was frozen on the button. His eyes darted around the streets. What if the shooter returned? What if there was more than one of them? He noticed the gun on the policeman’s belt. He might have to grab it to defend himself.
“Release your hand,” Tachias said.
He obeyed. A dispatcher said help was on its way.
The cabbie looked at Tachias and knew he was dying. He told him to hang on. He saw the lights of a police car, speeding toward him on Magnolia. He held his hands in the air to show he was unarmed.
He saw two policemen staring in at Crain, then exchanging a look that told him the officer was dead. He saw rescuers pull Tachias onto the ground and heard him say “I’m cold, I’m losing my breath,” while a policeman said, “Keep talking to him.”
Judging from the .223-caliber casings found at the scene, Dorner had fired at least 13 times with his armor-piercing assault rifle. Both officers were rushed to Riverside Community Hospital. Tachias slipped in and out of consciousness. Bullets had struck him in the back, legs and arms, blowing out his shoulder.
Crain had no pulse. Rescuers worked on him frantically for half an hour before pronouncing him dead, but he had probably died right away.
Seven rounds had struck him. They grazed his head, hit his shoulder and thigh, and severed his jugular vein.
One bullet had pierced his badge, ripped through his ballistic vest, and punctured his heart. He had not drawn his gun.
Dorner had disappeared again. The Cavalier driver, Jack Chilson, had tried to pursue him but had grown afraid and stopped.
From just feet away, he had seen Dorner firing at the patrol car. He had seen the bullets punch a circle in the window the size of a paper plate.
He noticed Dorner had been wearing a heavy camouflage jacket and wraparound goggles. It looked like he had been grinning.
About 40 minutes after the shooting, a shuttle driver near San Diego International Airport saw a wallet in the road and stopped to pick it up. Inside was a photo ID of Dorner and an LAPD detective’s badge.
The badge turned out to be real, but it was not Dorner’s. He had never been a detective.
The detective who had earned it was dead; the widow could not recall how it had vanished.
Police guessed that Dorner had probably purchased it from a police-memorabilia dealer, and had used it to masquerade as a detective.
Why had Dorner dumped the wallet here, on a well-traveled route where it was likely to be spotted? Did he want them to believe he had flown out of town?
Why, soon after his first killings, had he dumped his police and paramilitary gear in two National City trash bins? Had he been scuttling possessions in hopes of fleeing the country? Or was he playing some kind of game, taunting police with scattered clues?
About 5 a.m. Thursday, three and a half hours after the shooting, about 60 miles west of Riverside, an aluminum blue Toyota Tacoma rolled slowly down a wide, well-lit street in Torrance.
In the back seat was Emma Hernandez, 71, who was handing copies of the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal to her daughter, Margie Carranza, 46, who was driving with one hand and tossing papers onto porches with the other.
They were both small women, the mother under five feet tall, the daughter just a little taller. They were from El Salvador and spoke little English.
They had risen that morning in a Torrance tenement with a graffiti-scratched elevator. Hernandez shared the single bedroom with her granddaughter; Carranza slept in the living room near her teenage son.
The women were squirreling away money so that the boy could afford college. They did the two- and-a-half-hour shift seven days a week, 365 days a year, and held down separate jobs as housecleaners.
They drove to the newspaper distribution center to pick up their stack of 400 papers, and began their route. Their custom was to drive with headlights and hazard lights on.
The daughter noticed a police car parked at the corner of Redbeam Avenue and Norton Street, all four doors open, with no officers in sight. She was apprehensive. She never saw police here.
The women did not know that a team of LAPD officers was on the block guarding the house of a captain who had been targeted in Dorner’s manifesto. The police also had just received a radio call that a truck resembling Dorner’s had left the freeway and was headed their way.
The truck windows were open, and yet the women heard no orders to stop, no commands to surrender. They heard only the sound of gunfire exploding through the truck.
Glass shattered, and the air filled with splinters of plastic. Bullets flew through the seats, the headrest, the glass. “I am just the newspaper woman!” the daughter yelled, but the shots kept coming.
In the back seat, the mother saw her daughter’s head sway from side to side, and feared she would be shot in the head. “No tengas miedo!” she cried. Don’t be afraid.
She hugged the back of her daughter’s seat, to shield her from the barrage of bullets. She did not want her grandchildren to lose their mother. “God have mercy on our souls!” she said.
One bullet went in high on the right side of her back, and emerged just above the collarbone. Another bullet struck her lower back, close to the spine. A small fragment of glass flew into her eye.
Neither woman could tell how long the shooting lasted. By one estimate, police officers — eight of them — fired more than 100 rounds, and 30 of them missed the truck altogether.
Police yelled at the women to get out with their hands up. The terrified women emerged. The daughter told her mother to stand beside her, fearing they would now be executed.
The police looked at the women and seemed to realize their mistake.
“Why did you shoot at us?” the daughter asked. They heard no explanation, no apology.
The mother was able to stand, but she felt blood pouring down her back. “I’m hurt, I’m hurt,” she said. She wondered why police did not inspect her wounds or render first aid.
When an ambulance arrived, she bickered with paramedics who wanted to remove her shirt. Her daughter told her it was necessary.
Neighbors had been awakened by the gunfire, and some had crawled to their windows to peek outside. Bullets had sprayed cars and houses, roofs, garage doors, trees, windshields, bumpers, front doors.
One man heard bullets striking his front door, groped for the phone and demanded the police. The dispatcher said: They are already there.
One man found five bullet holes in the entryway to his house and voiced a common sense of bafflement. “How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?”
Only a few blocks away, Torrance police had stopped a black Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. The driver, David Perdue, was a 38-year-old baggage handler at LAX. He was going to pick up a friend for a morning of surfing.
Police questioned him and told him to turn around. As he was driving away, another Torrance police car raced up and broadsided him. His airbags exploded. An officer began firing at him. Three bullets flew through his windshield but missed him. He was ordered to the pavement at gunpoint. He would complain of a concussion, spine trouble and pain that left him unable to work or lift his kids.
A white man of medium height and build, he looked nothing like Christopher Dorner.
In their attempt at an explanation, Torrance police said its officers had been responding to the shots fired by the LAPD nearby. They had perceived the surfer as a threat.
Regina Crain had a nightmare once, after one of her husband’s colleagues on the Riverside Police Department had been killed on the job.
In the dream, she was with her husband in the kitchen, and he said, “You can’t keep doing this, Gina,” and she suddenly knew he was a ghost conjured from her longing. She woke up screaming and turned on the lights so she could see that he was alive.
“A cop-wife dream,” she called it.
Now the doorbell rang. She went down the stairs. Voodoo, her labrador, and Pandora, her Rottweiler, were barking madly, ready to maul whoever was at the door at 4 a.m.
When her first husband was away fighting in Fallujah, she had come to dread late-night visits. She knew what they meant. She had been to dozens of Marine funerals. She had once watched a casualty-notification team walk up to a neighbor’s house.
As she walked to the front door, she hoped the neighborhood was on fire. An evacuation order. Anything.
She looked through the peephole and saw a police shield and she knew.
She opened the door and saw one of her husband’s friends, a sergeant. The Riverside chief was standing behind him. She told them it was a dream. She tried to close the door on them. The sergeant put out his hand and said, “No, Gina, it’s real.”
He asked her to put away the dogs. She took the dogs upstairs and came back down and let the police officers in. She demanded that they say her husband was fine, he was hurt and in the hospital but fine.
Did he suffer?
No. It was quick.
Suddenly she remembered her phone. She raced upstairs and grabbed it. Michael Crain had sent his last text at 1:09 a.m., 25 minutes before he was shot. He had been thinking of her.
There was only one word:
Det. Alex Collins was up early, with his wife and new baby, and found one story dominating the news. The reports made clear that Christopher Dorner was no longer hunting just the network of people he blamed for his firing from the LAPD. Fleeing east out of L.A. County, he was shooting anyone with a badge.
Collins was a boyish-looking 26 with an air of earnest innocence. He had married his high school sweetheart. He was the youngest of three brothers, and had followed both of them into the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Now, Collins thought of the suicides he had seen during his years patrolling Big Bear. People sought out the isolation of the mountains to end their lives. He wondered if that might be Dorner’s plan.
It was Thursday, Feb. 7. Collins wasn’t supposed to be working. He had been on leave for two and a half weeks, for his son’s birth. His hair was longer than he liked it, and he had grown a beard.
It was still morning when his phone rang. It was his oldest brother, a patrol sergeant in Big Bear. He had information that had not yet made the news.
“Hey, I think we found Dorner’s truck,” he whispered. He was calling from an ice-covered mountain road where an abandoned Nissan Titan sat charred and smoldering.
Collins felt the impulse to go in. He called his other brother, who was on the SWAT team. Over the phone, he could hear him flooring his accelerator as he raced up the mountain.
Collins shaved. He put on his suit and tie.
His mom called to check on the baby. He told her he was going to follow his brothers up the mountain. He would not be able to live with himself if one of them got hurt and he was not there to help.
She sounded nervous. All three of her sons would be hunting a cop killer.
“I gotta go,” he said.
The lock on the gate of Forest Service Road 2N10 had been snipped with bolt cutters. It lay in the snow.
The road started at an altitude of 7,000 feet and wound steeply up a mountain, parallel to the Snow Summit Mountain Resort’s popular skiing and snowboarding slopes. A snowplow driver had found the truck blocking the road about 8:30 a.m., about a mile up the narrow path.
From the tire tracks in the ice, it seemed clear the driver had slid backward on his way into the mountains and found himself impossibly stuck. Deputies surmised that he had used propane to set a fire in the cab, and abandoned it in haste.
Inside the truck, deputies found the blackened parts of two AR-15 assault rifles, a charred portion of a Glock handgun, and the remains of a tent, a survival knife and a camping stove. Scattered through the truck, and in the surrounding snow, were hundreds of high-caliber rifle rounds that had exploded in the fire.
Deputies realized it could be a trap. If this was Dorner’s truck, he might be in the trees now, watching them through his sniper scope. They pulled back and brought in SWAT to search the woods. An armored truck extricated the Titan from the ice, and a tow truck carried it to the resort’s parking lot.
The license plate was missing, but detectives found the vehicle-ID number deep inside the truck, on a piece of steel riveted to a plate between the engine block and the cab. It was Dorner’s truck.
What had Dorner been doing up here? Had he hoped to hide on the mountain? Did he know that it was law-enforcement appreciation day at Snow Summit, and cops would be all over the slopes? Had he planned to find a sniper perch and kill some of them?
Within hours, hundreds of law officers had coalesced on the mountain. Helicopters landed, and more SWAT members poured out. Checkpoints and roadblocks sprang up, resorts were closed, and businesses went into lockdown.
Dorner had an hours-long head start. He might be anywhere up here, or long gone. He might have hitchhiked off the mountain. Was the torched truck part of a diversion? Or had he burned it in panic?
Helicopters criss-crossed the mountains. Big Bear Lake had thousands of homes, many of them vacant. Searchers in ski masks crept between cabins, guns drawn. They looked in one-room shacks and in sprawling vacation homes, in campgrounds and in Depression-era cabins. They crept up long uphill driveways without cover.
Late that day, as the wind picked up across Big Bear, investigators interviewed a 45-year-old woman named Reyna Eblin, who lived down the hill from where Dorner had abandoned his truck. She said she had spotted him from her driveway that morning.
Shielded from view behind her truck, she had watched him walk down the middle of the road, in Army boots and camouflage pants, carrying something stiff under his jacket.
Bloodhounds bounded into the surrounding woods. They had Dorner’s scent, sucked from a washcloth he had left in a hotel, but could not find his trail.
Darkness fell across the mountains and the cold deepened. The cloud cover and the high trees blocked the moon.
Locals stocked up on food, barricaded their doors and kept their guns and rifles close.
Like the Santa Ana wind that envelops millions of disparate Southern Californians in its grip, a sense of unease pervaded workaday rhythms across a vast region. On TV, on news blogs, on social media, the story of the fugitive L.A. cop gone rogue became a point of frenzied interest.
Reporters stood in the snow with microphones, updating viewers on every turn in the search. Carnage of any scale, at any place, now seemed thinkable.
On the way to work, drivers could see police staking out one freeway on-ramp after another. The thin blue line was usually invisible. Suddenly it was omnipresent and fearsomely armed. It felt like someone else’s country.
Police were scared. They strapped on ballistic shields and checked their guns. They sent kids to the homes of trusted friends, erasing visible links to loved ones, yanking vacation photos from Facebook. They walked to their cars in pairs, and drove home watching the rearview mirror.
People who looked like Dorner, even vaguely, were also scared. One of them wrote on his T-shirt: “NOT CHRIS DORNER PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT.”
On CNN, Anderson Cooper announced that his staff had received a package from Dorner a few days earlier. Inside was an LAPD memento coin with a bullet hole in it.
Former LAPD Chief William J. Bratton had given Dorner the coin, to honor his military service, and had later approved his firing. But he told Cooper he didn’t remember Dorner.
“He clearly has a beef with you,” Cooper said.
“A lot of police officers get discharged,” Bratton said.
On billboards and fliers, TV screens and Internet posts, Dorner’s face was everywhere. In every photo, he seemed to wear a huge smile.
“Of course he knows what he’s doing,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told the press. “We trained him.”
To coordinate the manhunt, authorities established a command post at a secretive facility in Norwalk. It was called the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, or JRIC, which occupied a nondescript office building and was meant for large multi-agency operations, including terror attacks.
Now it was a 24/7 nerve center of ringing phones and clicking computers, a bustle of local, state and federal agencies — including more than 40 detectives — dedicated to catching Dorner.
For the U.S. marshals, who were part of the team, Dorner represented an unusual quarry in that he lacked a criminal record, which meant he had no known network of accomplices. Agents watched his mother and sister, in case he reached out. They monitored his cellphone, his bank account and his credit cards. But he had gone off the grid.
Thomas Hession, chief of the marshals’ fugitive task force, was optimistic that Dorner would be captured. The question was how many people would die first. “The fugitive that completely drops off the face of the Earth is one in a million,” Hession said. “People are creatures of habit.”
That is why, he said, so many high-speed chases ended in the suspect’s driveway, and why he once caught a killer who couldn’t give up a favorite dry-cleaner. Dorner would probably stick to one of the places he knew, like Nevada, California or Utah. And sooner or later, wherever he was, he would make a mistake.
At the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which was leading the search of the mountain, detectives wondered: Was Dorner nearly as good a tactician as he portrayed himself to be? Had the military given him specialized guerrilla or cold-weather training?
The Navy said he had gone through basic combat training, and was an expert marksman, but otherwise had not been drilled in special tactics. He had guarded an oil rig at sea, but had not been in battle. He had flunked out of flight school. He had failed to get promoted and skipped the required drills. Somehow, he had managed to get out with an honorable discharge.
Again and again, detectives saw the gap between Dorner’s boasts and his achievements. In his attempt to impress women, he had falsely claimed to be an Internal Affairs investigator, a narcotics officer or a SWAT team member. He had displayed grisly war photos, passing himself off as a combat vet.
His LAPD record showed that he had struggled through the academy — it took him 13 months to graduate, rather than the customary six. He had punched one recruit and tried to choke another. He had fired a bullet into his own hand. Even in his 30s, he admitted to friends, he relied heavily on his mother for financial support. In his flight from the law, he had been unable to steal a boat from an 81-year-old man.
On Friday, cabdriver Karam Kaoud drove to Riverside Community Hospital and parked.
He walked up and found a security guard. He wasn’t family, he explained, but he wanted to know if he could see the young Riverside police officer who had been shot by Dorner the day before.
He didn’t say that he had witnessed the shooting, and that he had used the police radio to help save Officer Andrew Tachias’ life.
The guard left and came back and said no. Tachias was under guard.
Back in his cab, Kaoud called Riverside police. Would they let him see the officer?
The dispatcher who answered the phone asked if he was related.
“No,” he said. “I just wanted to know if he is OK. This is important to me.”
“He’s getting better.”
Det. Alex Collins had joined the search on the mountain. He was in his detective’s suit and tie, freezing. He and his partner set up motion-sensing cameras, bolting them to trees and telephone poles.
Collins and other detectives searched cabins for surveillance cameras, hoping that one of them had captured Dorner. They studied video footage from gas stations, hoping that Dorner had been seen pumping gas. They searched the trunks and back seats of cars coming and going on the mountain. Nothing.
As night fell Friday, searchers trudged back to the command post after 14-hour shifts in a state of taut-nerved alertness. Their exhaustion was exacerbated by the knee-high snow, 60-pound vests and the thin, high air. Now, with snow piled up to the doors of their trucks, they passed around shovels.
As the manhunt wore on, the LAPD’s threat-assessment team — including detectives, commanders and the department’s top shrink — met twice a day in the big, wood-paneled conference room on the 10th floor of headquarters.
On the white board, the names of potential targets had grown to 77. Protection details were working 12- to 14-hour shifts.
Traps were set outside the houses of some top-level targets. A single black-and-white would be stationed outside, to give Dorner the impression of light protection. Positioned in the surrounding neighborhoods were 16-man undercover teams.
This required officers with specialized training, however, and their ranks were fast depleted.
Some people on the target list felt stifled by their guards, and wanted to be left alone. Most stayed in town, a fact that didn’t surprise the department’s head psychologist, Kevin Jablonski. “They are armed,” he said. “Their personalities say, ‘Don’t run.’ ”
The psychologist thought Dorner was hunkered down in a cabin in Big Bear, “not hidden in the snowbank like James Bond.” He tried to make sense of Dorner’s actions. The attempt to get to Mexican waters. The drive into the mountains. The abandoned truck. Were they part of a master plan? Or were they the actions of someone in way over his head and prone to panic?
Jablonski studied Dorner’s language and saw a man who expected to die. He advised the San Bernardino County SWAT team to assume that he was booby-trapped, should he appear to be surrendering. They should approach him as if he would fight to the last breath.
He had some advice for his own department. Don’t use the terms “mentally ill” or “psychopath” in public about Dorner, he explained. It might further inflame him.
“This guy doesn’t want to be blamed for anything that’s going on,” Jablonski said. “He’s delusional. But don’t make him a Looney Tune.”
Chief Charlie Beck and his spokesman heeded the advice, but it did not stop others from pronouncing publicly on Dorner’s mental health. “He’s entitled, he’s narcissistic,” said one former police psychologist. Another added that he suffered from a “psychiatric illness.”
Jablonski had more advice for his chief: Announce that the case leading to Dorner’s firing would be reopened. This might give Dorner some pause, maybe enough to catch him.
In one sense, Dorner’s killings had already achieved their desired effect. People were reading his splenetic screed, and more than a few had already bought into his self-portrayal as a righteous man wronged.
On Facebook, pages had sprung up praising Dorner as a folk hero who had dared to defy the law enforcement establishment. Police were portrayed as gangsters in uniform who had again shown their disregard for civilian life in the two Torrance shootings.
“Christopher Dorner For President,” one page was entitled. Another admirer called him “Chocolate Rambo.” On social media, people vented about bad experiences with police, unjust workplaces, lost jobs, lying bosses, discrimination.
To many familiar with the history and culture of the LAPD, some of his accusations seemed plausible, at least on their face. He claimed the agency had railroaded him for reporting a supervisor’s misbehavior. Others had complained about such retaliation for years, citing a Blue Wall of Silence that forbade cops to snitch on other cops.
He portrayed the agency as a caldron of racism, and this resonated among those who remembered the Rodney King beating, the aggressive round-ups of black men during the gang wars of the 1980s, and LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman, whose incendiary racist rants surfaced at the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
To the people hunting him, Dorner’s lionization was an outrage. For his first victim, they pointed out, the supposed crusader for racial justice had selected a defenseless young black man and shot him in the back of the head.
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who had stood over Crain’s body at the hospital, called support for Dorner “ignorance and hate masquerading as intellectualism.”
There was nothing ambiguous about it, Diaz said. He was a murderer, plain and simple. “For this knucklehead, this cockroach to become an icon....”
Some of the lawmen hunting Dorner studied his manifesto for clues about what he might do next.
Justin Musella of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s SWAT team concluded that Dorner would probably stay hidden until the heat died down. “We have to handle him totally separately from anything we’ve ever dealt with,” he said.
His SWAT colleague, Chad Johnson, read a few pages and tossed it aside. Its author had hunted down and murdered a man’s daughter.
“That’s all you need to know,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Det. Alex Collins and his partner methodically checked the cameras they had spread around the mountain. No hits.
The sky over the mountain was a marvelous blue. Tourists were coming back, lured by the promise of 18 inches of fresh snow. They reasoned that Dorner must be gone.
Helicopters continued to criss-cross the mountains with cameras so sensitive they could detect a rabbit from the air. No sign.
Collins and other detectives visited utility companies, trying to determine if any of the cabins had seen a sudden spike in water, gas or electricity.
An address in Big Bear Lake jumped out, and soon Collins was in a helicopter looking at footprints in the snow around the cabin.
SWAT went in by Snowcat. No Dorner.
Charlie Beck was waiting for the shooting to start again.
An elite team of officers was guarding his home, set on two acres of winding horse trails at the end of a San Gabriel Valley cul-de-sac. At night it grew bitterly cold. He put space heaters in the garage for them; his wife brought cookies.
Beck’s three grown children were staying at the house, two of them cops themselves. “I need you guys to take care of each other,” he told them. “Think of yourself as a line of defense.”
Beck saw the adulation for Dorner as partly a reflection of Americans’ deep-rooted affection for anti-heroes. A lone rebel versus the LAPD’s Evil Empire — people who cheered Dorner seemed to want the story to fit that convenient template.
The real story was something else, thought Beck. It was about a failed cop, angry and paranoid and perhaps mentally ill, who blamed everyone but himself for his shortcomings.
On Saturday, the fourth day of the manhunt, Beck announced that he would reopen Dorner’s termination case. It was “not to appease a murderer,” he said, but to assure people that the LAPD was “fair and transparent.”
“I am aware of the ghosts of the LAPD’s past,” Beck said, “and one of my biggest concerns is that they will be resurrected by Dorner’s allegations of racism within the department.”
The announcement stunned Sgt. Teresa Evans, who had been in hiding with her teenage son for four days. The whole case stemmed from Dorner’s accusation — determined by the LAPD to be a lie — that she had kicked a suspect.
She felt betrayed. Would she have to relive what she called the “nightmare”? For most of a year, she had been forced to work behind a desk, barred from earning overtime as she tried to clear her name.
“Are they saying they don’t believe me now?” she asked her lawyer over the phone.
Her lawyer said the chief was playing to public perceptions.
Evans wondered how long it could possibly continue. The first day she had felt too vulnerable at home. Reporters were assembling outside. It meant Dorner could find her too. On the second day, SWAT extracted her and her son, rushing them — both hidden under hooded jackets — into an unmarked van.
Now, with cops stationed in the hall outside, she and her son had adjoining rooms in a hotel with a view from a high floor. She had packed his Xbox, a MacBook, an iPad and some underwear.
Hour after hour, Evans played video soccer with her son. She let him watch a little TV, so he understood the outlines of the situation, but tried to shield him from the details.
SWAT brought her lattes and turkey sandwiches. She picked at the meat. She threw up when she tried to eat. She was 115 pounds and shedding weight by the day.
She did not think Dorner could still be on the mountain. Someone must be helping him elude the dragnet, she thought. What if he was never caught?
She would have to quit the police work she loved. She would have to leave the country with her son. She would have to find a new home, maybe in Ireland, with relatives.
She told no one where she was, not even her ex-husband. She refused to stray outside the hotel room into the hall. Someone might notice her and snap a photograph and post it online. As quickly as that, the location of the safe house would be exposed.
She traded texts with her lawyer and friend, Robert Rico, who was also under heavy guard. Considering Dorner’s record, Rico thought, the real question wasn’t why the LAPD had fired him but why he hadn’t been fired sooner.
Evans and Rico kept returning to a disturbing realization: Sooner or later, their protection details would be pulled. “At some point,” Evans would say, “they’re going to dump me out the door and say, ‘Good luck to you.’ ”
Hundreds of tips poured in, most of them useless. One night, police stationed snipers at windows around an apartment building in a rundown San Bernardino neighborhood after a 911 caller claimed Dorner was inside with a stash of guns. It was a fake call, but some wary police still wondered: Was Dorner staging a diversion? Was he watching?
On Sunday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood with Beck and Diaz, the Riverside police chief, to announce a $1-million reward for Dorner’s capture.
“We will not tolerate this reign of terror,” the mayor said.
By the next day, nearly a thousand bad tips had poured in. There were false Dorner sightings from Denver to Chicago.
They found nothing Sunday. They found nothing Monday.
Then it was Tuesday, and as the manhunt entered its seventh day, the Riverside Police Department was nervously preparing to bury Officer Michael Crain.
The memorial service at Grove Community Church, and the burial at nearby Riverside National Cemetery, were expected to draw 8,000 to 10,000 people, many of them cops.
It had been five days since anyone had seen Dorner. “You got a guy who has all kinds of high-powered weapons and a desire to kill,” recalled Riverside Police Department Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer, who was organizing the service. “I am sweating bullets.”
If Dorner planted himself in the low-lying mountain range overlooking the church, he would have a direct line of sight in a sniper scope. Police tried to calculate if rounds from a .50-caliber rifle might reach mourners from that distance. They sent helicopters into the hills, looking for heat signatures.
They staked out high positions on buildings along the seven-mile stretch the caravan would travel from the church to the cemetery. There were 200 cops lined up to work security, and agencies from everywhere were volunteering manpower.
Dorner was not their only worry. He might have an acolyte, with a gun and a plan.
On the mountain, search teams were being pulled out.
Dorner might be dead somewhere under the snow, and wouldn’t be found until the snow melted in weeks or months. But if he was still up there, the large crowds attending the upcoming Presidents’ Day weekend — combined with the lighter police presence — would give him a chance to slip away.
Just down the road from the spot where Dorner had abandoned his truck, Jim and Karen Reynolds were cleaning the 13-unit resort they managed in their retirement.
Around noon, they approached Room 203. Jim inserted the key.
Everyone hunting him understood the equation. If Christopher Dorner was still alive, he would get the first shot.
Jeremiah MacKay was 35, a large, boisterous, red-haired detective on the major crimes squad of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. He had a wife, an infant son and a 6-year-old stepdaughter. It was hard to find a room in which he was not the loudest man.
MacKay had been searching Big Bear for days. He had grown up nearby, and knew the mountains well.
A fireman’s son with Irish roots, he liked pints of Guinness, expensive Scotch and wearing a kilt on St. Patrick’s Day. He played the bagpipes in the honor guard at police funerals. In his nearly 15 years on the job, he had seen more cop widows and cop orphans and grieving cop parents than almost anyone.
Out of uniform, he preferred not to mention his job, so people would be themselves. He introduced himself as a salesman for a fictional pickle company, with a dirty pun in the title. “They sell them at Trader Joe’s,” he would say. “A gourmet brand.”
As he hunted for Dorner that week, he received a call from a buddy on the force.
“Whoever finds him is gonna get killed, because he gets to act first,” the friend said. “Whoever opens that door...”
“I’m gonna get him,” MacKay said. “He’s a cop killer.”
Jim and Karen Reynolds were about to find Christopher Dorner.
The couple, married 36 years, lived above the office of the Mountain Vista Resort on Club View Drive, which they ran with their grown daughter.
Jim was 66, a former Navy man and IBM system engineer, tall, lanky, and white-haired, with wild, bushy eyebrows. Karen was 56, a former nurse, small, sweet-faced and bespectacled.
Their resort was a cluster of 1980s-era brown condo units, with maple trees and a towering Ponderosa pine. They were going room to room, stripping sheets and collecting towels, when they came to Room 203.
Five days before, when Dorner’s pickup was discovered up the road, Jim had methodically checked the doors and found this cabin locked. It had been unlocked earlier for repairs, he knew, but he assumed one of his family members had re-locked it.
Now, Jim opened the door and they entered, climbing the red-carpeted stairway. It led upstairs to a living room with an old stone fireplace, a kitchenette and a sliding-glass door that opened onto a snow-covered balcony.
Jim went to the window to examine the curtain rod, which needed repairs. Karen was heading toward the hallway that led to a bedroom, looking for fresh linens.
Dorner emerged from the hallway, pointing a handgun.
Karen recognized him at once. She yelled and ran back down the stairs toward the entrance. She had the door open. She was partway through. She hesitated.
She couldn’t leave her husband. She couldn’t risk leading Dorner to her daughter, who was somewhere on the property. She thought of her own life: If you go out that door, he has to shoot you.
In a moment Dorner was on her, digging his fingers into her forearm.
Upstairs, Jim fumbled for the smartphone in the rubber case on his waist, but couldn’t get it free in time to dial 911. He hid it in the sofa cushions.
Dorner came back up the stairs with Karen and said, “I know you know who I am.”
Jim thought they were as good as dead. It was an hour’s drive, at least, to get off the mountain. His only chance of escape was to kill them.
By appearances, Dorner had been there for days. There were trail mix wrappers and containers for ready-to-eat meals. There were footprints on the snow-covered balcony. He had used a towel in the downstairs shower.
Jim thought Dorner looked well-rested, with a couple days’ growth of beard, and composed like a man trained to handle tense situations.
After abandoning his truck, Dorner would have had to walk only a short distance to reach Club View Drive. From there, at a brisk pace, past log cabins and gracious A-frames and porches adorned with antlers and carved wooden bears, he would have made it to their resort in five minutes.
The San Bernardino County sheriff would insist that searchers had checked it, but had found no signs of forced entry, and were not authorized to kick down the door. The Reynoldses said deputies never contacted them to ask permission to go inside.
However it happened, Dorner’s presence had been missed. From the room’s porch window, he could have seen his truck towed into the parking lot of the ski resort across the street.
He could have seen police helicopters landing and taking off, and an army of law enforcement – police, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents – coming and going from the command post. Along with fleets of reporters and cameramen, they would have passed easily within range of his sniper scope.
Because the room had an Internet hookup and cable, he could have watched the manhunt unfold live, and learned that the massive effort was dwindling.
“I just want to clear my name,” Dorner told the Reynoldses.
The couple was shaking with fear. Dorner explained that he had spared the San Diego yacht owner, and would spare them too. They were merely means to an end.
Jim thought of mentioning that he had been a Navy man himself. Maybe this would endear him to Dorner, and increase the odds of survival. Then he remembered hearing that Dorner’s stint with the Navy had ended badly.
Jim thought fleetingly of throwing himself on Dorner, maybe distracting him just long enough for his wife to escape. But he doubted she would leave him anyway. And trying to overpower a bigger, younger, stronger man seemed a fool’s errand.
“Do you have a car?” Dorner demanded.
Yes, they said, it was parked in front of the office with a full tank of gas. A purple-maroon Nissan Rogue. He took the key.
Dorner ordered them to kneel on the sofa with their faces against the wall, their ankles crossed and their hands up.
Dorner said he had seen Jim shoveling snow a few days earlier.
“You are good, hard-working people,” he said.
They felt Dorner tightening zip-ties around their wrists. Dorner took Karen’s cellphone out of her jacket pocket. He ordered them to their feet, and told them to go down the hallway toward the bedroom.
“Don’t look around,” he said. “Look at the ceiling.”
In the bedroom, atop a small dresser, Jim noticed pieces of carrots and a dull-bladed butcher knife from the kitchen. He is going to hack us to death back here, he thought.
Dorner ordered them to lie face-down on the floor, then tightened zip-ties around their feet. Searching Jim’s pockets, Dorner found a Hershey bar and asked if he was a diabetic.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh s---,” Dorner said.
He put the chocolate between them on the carpet.
He left the room and returned with washcloths to stuff in their mouths. He pulled pillowcases over their heads. He found electrical cords and tied them around their heads, to hold the gags in place. He jerked their heads back.
“Say the alphabet,” Dorner ordered her.
“A...B...C...D...E...F...G...H...I...J...K...” She slurred and mumbled more than necessary, to convey the impression the gag could be no tighter, and Dorner seemed satisfied when she reached “K.”
He pushed them face-down on the carpet. They could hear him packing a bag. He asked calmly if they would be quiet long enough for him to escape.
For the first time, Karen understood the literal truth of the concept of being paralyzed with fear. But she managed to nod.
They heard his footsteps in the hallway. They listened for the thump of the front door closing. Instead, they heard Dorner’s voice, now tinged with panic: “These aren’t car keys!”
It was a keyless car, they explained through their gags. Just push the starter.
Dorner disappeared again.
Karen was terrified that he would run into her daughter, who was on the property, maybe in the laundry room just below. She felt her hands and feet swelling from the zip-ties. She maneuvered her head down to Jim’s hands. His fingers fumbled uselessly as he tried to get the pillowcase off her face.
She scooted and wriggled until her hands were at Jim’s head, and her fingers found purchase and removed his pillowcase. Then he was able to pull off hers.
She rocked back and forth, struggling to her knees and then her feet. She saw the butcher knife on the dresser and got its handle in her teeth. Maybe the edge would cut the zip-ties.
She dropped the knife toward Jim, hoping he could grab it. She heard a noise through the door. She kicked the knife against the wall, where it would be hidden behind the door if Dorner returned.
They waited. Dorner did not return. She pushed down on the door handle and hopped into the hallway and into the living room. With her hands still tied behind her back, she grabbed the land-line and tried to dial 911 but couldn’t manage it.
She noticed that Dorner had inexplicably left her smartphone on the coffee table. It was a new phone, and it took awhile to find the speaker-phone button.
She dialed 911. She got an operator. Dorner is in Big Bear, she said. He has our car. It was 12:23 p.m. He had a head start of 15 to 30 minutes.
Det. Alex Collins had spent the morning searching the woods near the condo, trying to rethink his assumptions about where the fugitive might be. He and his partner were back at the Big Bear station, about to head to lunch, when the radios crackled: Dorner was near Big Bear. He was driving a stolen purple Nissan Rogue.
Collins and his partner grabbed their tactical vests and rifles and jumped into the truck. On his iPhone, Collins Googled “Nissan Rogue” so he could be sure what it looked like.
There were only a few ways off the mountain, and they reasoned that Dorner would not risk California Highway 18, which would take him through town.
They guessed he would try to sneak out the back way, on California Highway 38, toward Redlands.
Deputy Jeremiah MacKay was at his office at the Yucaipa station when he got the word. That morning, detectives had visited his office to seek his help on a drug-related homicide, but the talk had quickly turned to Dorner.
The men knew the mountain, and batted around ideas about where he could be. It seemed outrageous that one man could hold law enforcement hostage like this.
MacKay said what he had been saying all week: “I want to get him.”
He raced up the mountain.
On Highway 38, near Glass Road, four law enforcement officers — two San Bernardino County deputies and two state Fish and Wildlife wardens — were setting up a checkpoint and laying spike strips.
They noticed a pair of school buses coming down the narrow, winding highway, headed west. The Nissan Rogue was following close behind, as if to guard against the spike strips. Dorner was at the wheel.
The officers jumped into their cars and gave chase. Dorner swerved around the buses and accelerated. In the time it took the pursuing cars to get around the buses, Dorner had vanished.
They guessed that he had hooked a hard right on Glass Road, which twisted downhill through thick, snow-covered forest toward the community of Seven Oaks.
They raced down, rifles out the window. About a mile down the road, they found the Rogue smashed against a snowbank, the windshield cracked, the air bags deployed. Inside, Dorner had abandoned a package of Quickclot, meant to pour on wounds, and a small arsenal: smoke grenades, tear-gas canisters and a silencer-equipped Remington sniper rifle bearing the word VENGEANCE.
Nearby, on the same road, a 62-year-old man who ran a local Boy Scout camp was driving by in his silver Dodge Ram when Dorner walked out of the trees aiming his assault rifle. The driver parked and raised his hands.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Dorner said. “Just get out.”
Three wardens, stationed down the hill at Seven Oaks, were now racing up Glass Road in two separate trucks, lights flashing and sirens blaring.
They were looking for the purple Nissan, not the stolen Dodge pickup in which Dorner was now hurtling toward them.
Dorner crossed paths with the first warden, who noticed Dorner behind the wheel and radioed a warning to the second truck.
Dorner raised his AR-15 and fired at the second truck, a four-door Chevrolet pickup. Inside were two wardens and a German shepherd, Reno. Bullets struck the windshield. The roof. The driver’s window. The door jamb. Glass shattered on the wardens.
They knew a rule from the academy: Drive through an ambush, then get back into the fight.
One of the wardens, Ben Matias, an ex-Marine, jumped out of the truck, ran to a berm and spotted Dorner taking sharp turns down the hill. He took aim with his .308 assault rifle and emptied a 20-round magazine at the fleeing truck. It disappeared.
Det. Alex Collins, racing to the scene, received calls in quick succession from both his older brothers. Like him, they were San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies hunting for Dorner. They told him the same thing: Be careful. Don’t rush in alone. Wait for us.
With his partner driving, Collins was scanning the woods around Glass Road over the top of his Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle, forest rushing by on both sides. They passed the Fish and Wildlife truck with the blown-out driver’s side window.
They hung a left at the bottom of Glass Road. On the right, at 40700 Seven Oaks Road, stood an empty one-story wood cabin. A stone fireplace rose above its east side. It sat amid a towering forest of white oaks, black oaks and cedar pines.
Trucks of law officers hurtled past the cabin. Collins and his partner stopped just west of it and climbed out.
They were looking for the stolen truck. Where they found it, they knew, they would find Dorner. But there was no sign of it anywhere around the cabin.
They did not know that Dorner had sent it to the bottom of an embankment behind the cabin.
They did not know that he was now inside the cabin, waiting for a target.
Collins was side-stepping along the road, head tilted over his aimed rifle, when he saw a flash. He had the sensation of being punched in the face. A round from Dorner’s assault rifle entered just under his left nostril, crashed through the roof of his mouth, shattered his front teeth, split his tongue and exploded bone as it emerged from his lower right jaw. His face went numb.
The bullets seemed to be coming from a cabin window, but the muffled pop pop pop from Dorner’s silencer made it hard to pinpoint where. Another round struck Collins just below the left kneecap. A round passed through his left forearm. A round struck his chest.
He scrambled behind the back wheel of another cop’s silver Dodge Durango and collapsed. Bullets were flying all around him. Rounds sailed through the truck. Shattered glass from the Dodge fell at his feet.
Dorner seemed to be shooting carefully, whenever he saw an exposed human shape. He was firing at the pavement under the truck, trying to kill with ricochets.
Collins thought: “In seconds, I’ll pass out and die.”
He was choking on his blood and teeth. He was sure the burning in his chest was a high-powered AR-15 round that had pierced his ballistic vest.
He thought: “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
He’d been running scenarios through his head all week, preparing himself. What if he found Dorner on the road? In a car? In a closet? He’d tried to imagine how he would react. And now he was close to death with no idea how it had happened.
Trim and athletic, he ran three miles a day, and he knew how to push through pain. But the pain in his leg was excruciating, and he thought: “If I am going to die, God, let me go now.”
He felt he had let everybody down. He thought of how furious his brothers would be at him.
He had to call his wife. He would spend his last seconds telling her he loved her, and explaining that he wouldn’t be home tonight, that he was sorry he let this happen, sorry for leaving her alone with a brand-new baby.
He reached under his ballistic vest. He kept his iPhone in a jacket pocket over his heart. The phone was shattered. Angrily, he hurled it away.
Seconds passed, and he realized he wasn’t dead yet. He heard yelling and gunfire.
He thought: “Don’t panic. Don’t freak out.”
He thought of his training at the Sheriff’s Academy, where cops who had been shot spoke of the Will to Live, of never giving up. He thought of the Navy SEAL in one of his favorite books, “Lone Survivor,” who had survived horrific injury in Afghanistan.
He leaned forward on his arm, to allow the blood filling up his throat to pour onto the pavement.
A few feet away, Deputy Jeremiah MacKay had scrambled behind another wheel of the Dodge and was firing at the cabin. A rescue chopper was overhead, and MacKay got on the radio to tell the pilot which structure Dorner was firing from.
“It’s gonna be right from where you’re at now,” MacKay said, his words captured on a dispatch recording. “Right ahead of you — right ahead of you — directly underneath you right now —”
Seconds later, as he tried to direct the helicopter, MacKay lost just enough of his cover to give Dorner a target.
The bullet went in at a high angle, right above MacKay’s ballistic shield, and ricocheted into his chest. He was dead almost instantly.
A few feet away, Collins watched his own blood pooling on the pavement. Then something happened that he did not understand. He turned his head and saw that he was completely exposed to the cabin. The Dodge Durango that had been shielding him had vanished. He saw his rifle in the road, but couldn’t reach it. He waited for a bullet to hit his head.
A hasty rescue attempt had cost him his cover. One cop had intended to drag the shot deputies out of the line of fire, using the Dodge — driven by a second cop — as a moving shield. Amid the fear and pandemonium and flying bullets, the truck was driven off, and the downed deputies left in the road.
They called it the kill zone, a wide-open stretch of road in the direct line of Dorner’s assault rifle, and now Collins and MacKay lay in the middle of it. For perhaps 20 or 30 yards, there were no cars, no trees, no sources of cover at all.
“Shots fired. Officer down....”
“Automatic fire coming in-bound....”
“Officers still down in the kill zone....”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s SWAT Sgt. John Charbonneau raced up in his truck. In the seat beside him was Det. Justin Musella, who had fought as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, and who now recognized the faint THWUP THWUP THWUP of silenced high-powered rounds flying from the cabin.
“Sergeant, stop! We’re getting shot at!”
They jumped out and opened fire at the cabin. More cops arrived, and raced to find cover behind trucks and trees. Glass fragments flew outward from the cabin as Dorner fired. There was the rustle of a curtain in one of the cabin’s east windows.
Officers poured in rounds. Dorner’s bullets zipped overhead. They thwacked into trees and pierced the sides of cars. The smell of gunpowder saturated the thin, cold air.
The two downed deputies still lay motionless in the road, and for the men who could see them every second was excruciating. Instinct told them to race out and retrieve their brothers; logic told them this would guarantee their own quick death.
They needed an armored vehicle to provide cover for the rescue, but nobody could say how long it would take to get it there.
Musella sprinted closer toward the cabin, taking cover behind a small, wooden, free-standing game room across the driveway. He tossed a smoke grenade toward Dorner, but it landed in the snow. The smoke churned upward; the wind blew it back toward the officers.
He threw another. This time, the smoke rose and created a wall between the cabin and the downed deputies.
On the west side, SWAT deputies Daniel Rosa and Larry Lopez locked eyes. This was their chance.
Lopez ran into the road first, as officers laid down a barrage of cover fire. He grabbed the first deputy he came to, MacKay, a big man, and dragged him 25 to 50 yards until they were behind a shield of trucks. Breathing hard, he grabbed his rifle and looked at Rosa.
“Your turn,” he said.
Rosa sprinted out to Collins. He grabbed his vest and started dragging.
Tell my brothers I love them, Collins was saying. Tell them I’m sorry I screwed up.
He felt himself being loaded into the back of someone’s pickup truck, and then a blaze of pain as MacKay’s body was loaded on board partly on top of his wounded leg. He saw himself bleeding into a pair of spare boots. He thought: Someone will be mad.
He was aware of a gurney beneath him, of men carrying him into a rescue chopper.
Put me on my stomach, he managed to say, or I will choke on my blood.
On the way to Loma Linda Hospital, he clutched his cloth sheriff’s badge in his fist. He did not know why. He was still conscious when the emergency room staff cut off his clothes and boots.
Doctors examined his chest. The high-powered round had pierced his ballistic shield and been deflected by the iPhone in his jacket pocket. It had saved his life.
Around the cabin, after perhaps 10 minutes of furious gunfire, everything slowed down. There were 30 or 40 officers with assault rifles forming a perimeter to ensure that Dorner wouldn’t escape. They passed around fresh ammunition magazines.
A dozen cops were trapped, hunkered behind a row of trucks in front of the cabin. When an armored personnel carrier finally reached them, 45 minutes after the shooting had started, they scrambled inside and got away.
Deputies received word, from the cabin owner, that the property was not occupied, dispelling worries that Dorner might have a hostage. They learned the cabin had a basement.
A team of LAPD SWAT officers had taken command of a fire helicopter and flown to the mountain. They were deposited on a ridge about a half-mile north of the cabin.
“I’m not sure if they were invited or not, or if anyone’s controlling them,” a sheriff’s deputy said over the radio.
Not only had the helicopter presented another target for Dorner’s rifle, but the local deputies lacked direct radio contact with the LAPD team, which created the possibility of confusion and chaos.
Was the LAPD so zealous because Dorner had been one of their own? Did they doubt their San Bernardino counterparts could handle the crisis? A “miscommunication,” the LAPD called it, a result of bad cellphone and radio coverage in the mountains.
Whatever the reason, San Bernardino County sheriff’s commanders were furious. They ordered the LAPD team not to get any closer.
From the SWAT truck, an amplified voice boomed an order to surrender: You are surrounded. You have no chance of escape.
They fired canisters of tear gas into the cabin. Still no sign of Dorner.
At 3:45 p.m. a sheriff’s deputy rumbled toward the cabin in an armored tractor and tore into the east wall with an extendable claw. The claw ripped out a door and some windows. A camera mounted on the tractor appeared to show a wall covered in blood.
Police later surmised this was not blood but the orange-red burst of pepper spray from a gas canister.
At 4:05 p.m., greenish smoke emerged from the cabin. Dorner had popped his own smoke canister, apparently expecting that the SWAT team would be rushing into the house. The smoke would blind them, and give him an advantage.
This meant Dorner was alive. Nobody rushed in.
SWAT command decided to shoot in canisters of CS gas, called burners. Also known as hot gas, or pyrotechnic tear gas, it had a propensity to spark fires.
Critics would question this decision. Why not just wait Dorner out?
Dorner had shown no willingness to surrender. He had not attempted to communicate with deputies. He was well-armed, and possibly equipped with rations, meaning the standoff could go on indefinitely. His manifesto made it clear he planned to die.
The shadows of the tall pines were lengthening. Every minute represented further risk to the law officers, risk that would multiply when darkness overtook the snowbound mountains. Dorner might possess night-vision goggles that would enable him to find targets.
On their radios, deputies orchestrated the end-game.
“We’re going to go forward with the plan, with the burner....”
Hot gas went in at 4:09 p.m. Flames began to spread. They waited for Dorner; he did not emerge.
“Seven burners deployed, and we have a fire.”
“We have a fire in the front and he might come out the back....”
At 4:20 p.m., from the cabin, there came the sound of a single gunshot.
“No. 4 side fully engulfed....”
A firetruck was told to hang back a couple hundred yards. Ignited by fire, ammunition was exploding inside the cabin.
“This thing’s well-constructed.... I still have ammo popping here....”
“More ammo going off....”
“I’m told that there’s basement in that cabin.... I’m going to let that heat burn through that basement.”
The fire wasn’t spreading to nearby homes or trees. They let it burn.
Live on television, people watched the climax of the Dorner manhunt play out in flames.
At Dorner’s favorite watering hole in Las Vegas, bartenders and customers watched.
At the manhunt command post in Norwalk, an army of cops watched.
At LAPD headquarters, the chief stood with the mayor and watched.
At a secret hotel room, Dorner’s former training officer, Teresa Evans, watched.
At Grove Community Church in Riverside, where a viewing was underway for Michael Crain, people had been trying to shield his widow Regina from the news, because it had not been confirmed that it was Dorner in the cabin.
But Regina kept asking where her husband’s friends on the SWAT team were, and finally someone told her they were on the mountain.
At 8 p.m. they still had not shown up, and she pleaded with the church to keep the viewing open a little longer. A few minutes later the SWAT team entered, their faces smeared with camouflage paint.
They took turns hugging her.
“We got him,” one of them said. “It’s OK. We got him.”
Michael Crain’s 10-year-old son walked slowly behind his father’s flag-draped casket the next day. He looked tiny among the police pallbearers, his palms pressed against one end of the casket.
A woman from the neighborhood watched the long caravan of police cars pass by, lights flashing. She told her twin granddaughters: “Put your hands over your hearts.”
Regina Crain received the folded American flag from the police chief, and watched as her husband was buried.
Later, she would ask commanders for the badge her husband had worn the night of his death, so she could put it in a place of honor. They were reluctant, and she knew why: a bullet from Dorner’s AR-15 had torn through her husband’s badge, and the shield, on the way to his heart.
Teresa Evans still did not feel safe.
Maybe the dead man in the cabin was a Dorner look-alike, an accomplice. It did not seem crazier than what had already happened.
“What seemed impossible before is no longer impossible,” she said. “My reality is, I’m not really sure what could happen at any time.”
Back home alone, she coped with her nerves by cleaning. She took down the sheets over the windows. She put the furniture back in place. She couldn’t eat.
Even after experts confirmed that the charred body in the basement was Dorner — first by dental records, then by comparing a sample of Dorner’s DNA kept by the Navy to marrow from the femur of the charred corpse — she remained apprehensive. What if someone tried to finish what he started?
One day, she found that someone had removed her window screen and tried to get inside her house.
Another day, she saw graffiti on a wall near the police station: TERRI EVANS IS A LIAR. On the Web, some people hailed Dorner as a hero and said she deserved whatever she got.
She thought about changing her name, but it would be easy to find the new one in public records. She knew her name would be visible, on her uniform, as long as she wore one.
Not long ago, she drove up the mountain and stared at the blackened hole in the ground where Dorner had died. She badly wanted to talk to the families he had hurt. But she dreaded what they might think. What if they held her responsible for pushing him over the edge?
“I don’t know how people feel about me,” she said. “I don’t know who blames me, and who doesn’t.”
So far, she hasn’t returned to work. Even at the LAPD, she can’t be sure who is her friend.
By his charred corpse, police found the 9-millimeter Glock that Dorner had used to put a single bullet through his temple.
Ballistics analysis matched the gun to the shootings of Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan. The charred AR-15 assault rifle found in the basement was matched to the slayings of Michael Crain and Jeremiah MacKay, and the shootings of Alex Collins and Andrew Tachias.
In Dorner’s wallet, along with a fake police badge, an LAPD business card had survived the cabin fire. On it, he had written the names of two of the police captains who oversaw his Board of Rights. Their addresses were included, and the names of their wives.
For the LAPD’s mistaken shooting of Emma Hernandez and her daughter, Margie Carranza, the newspaper delivery women received a $4-million settlement from the city.
Of the two, Carranza is the more traumatized. She is afraid of police, and afraid to go out at night. When she takes her children to the movies, she sits separately from them.
Her logic is simple. If someone comes with a gun to kill her, she does not want her children to die too.
Alex Collins spent two months in the hospital, an armed deputy standing guard day and night. A conference room was outfitted with a recliner and a baby crib, so Collins’ wife and infant son could stay close.
His wife wondered what would have happened if he had worn his smartphone in his back pocket that day, instead of over his chest. One day, in his hospital room, he and his wife caught a glimpse of the television news. A man was getting Christopher Dorner’s face tattooed on his arm.
Collins underwent 20 surgeries. The roof of his mouth was repaired, his tongue sewn together, his obliterated teeth replaced, his shattered leg embedded with pins. Plastic surgeons erased the mark of the bullet hole under his nose. He learned to stand with a walker, and finally to do without the walker, and now his limp is barely visible.
He returned to police work in September, in the intelligence division. His son will turn 1 in January.
Riverside Police Officer Andrew Tachias lives in constant pain from Dorner’s bullets. He has no movement in his left arm, and little in his right. He has grown reclusive, and has trouble talking about the shooting that took his partner’s life. “He hasn’t healed at all,” his father says.
The cabdriver who helped save Tachias’ life insists he did nothing extraordinary.
“If you are at same place and same time, I believe you are gonna do the same,” says Karam Kaoud, then thinks about it some more and says, “Actually, I don’t know.”
He still drives a cab, only now he hates to be stopped at red lights. He doesn’t want to be a target.
“I don’t defend what Dorner did, but like many in the community, I believe what he said,” a man told Charlie Beck.
The LAPD chief was standing before a crowd in South Los Angeles. The speaker’s sentiment was no surprise. For those who remembered similar community meetings from 20 years ago, what seemed remarkable was the softer tone. No one shouted at the chief; no one cursed him.
“We hire from the human race and we hire the best people we can, and sometimes they make mistakes,” Beck said.
Recently, the LAPD completed its review of Christopher Dorner’s firing. The conclusion was the same. He had told a lie about his training officer, and his badge had been properly stripped.
Randal Quan drove to the Irvine Police Department to meet the chief detective who had worked his daughter’s killing.
He was there not to discuss the case, but because he had requested the jewelry his daughter had been wearing when she was killed. He wanted to bury her in it.
Usually, the transfer of such property took time. There was red tape.
Det. Victoria Hurtado wanted to ensure he received it without delay. She walked to the property room. She removed Monica Quan’s engagement ring, necklace, bracelets and watch from the sealed evidence bags.
The jewelry was caked with blood.
She found a brush and paper towels, and went to the sink. She began cleaning.
In early February, Southern California was riveted by the vengeful rampage of a former LAPD officer, Christopher Dorner, and the massive manhunt police mounted across four of the nation's most populous counties. To reconstruct those events, The Times conducted more than 400 interviews over 10 months, and consulted thousands of pages of court documents, police and coroner reports, and military records. These stories were reported by Christopher Goffard, Joel Rubin, Louis Sahagun, Kurt Streeter and Phil Willon and written by Goffard. Also contributing were Joseph Serna, Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz. The illustrations are by Doug Stevens.
Notes: Sources and attributions.