Christopher Dorner. (Photo: Irvine Police Department Press)
By William M. Welch, Donna Leinwand Leger and Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Investigators were picking through the rubble of a burned-out cabin in California's San Bernardino Mountains on Wednesday, trying to piece together details of the violent last stand for a fugitive former Los Angeles police officer whose life apparently ended hours earlier in a barrage of bullets and blazing fire.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said charred human remains were found in the rubble where Christopher Dorner is said to have been cornered Tuesday. "We have reason to believe that it is him," sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.
A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner also was found, the Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but declined to be named because of the ongoing probe.
Bachman said forensic tests would be carried out to confirm the identification.
Hours earlier, Dorner killed one sheriff's deputy and wounded another as his deadly two-week rampage across Southern California came to a close.
Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning in Seven Oaks, a small community in the San Bernardino Mountains, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.
But Smith said that until Dorner's body is positively identified "or he's in shackles," the LAPD is continuing under "tactical alert ... as if he's still out there." Police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others threatened in Dorner's online manifesto.
SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside of the cabin as part of a "tactical operation" and were tearing down its walls to flush out Dorner, who had reportedly been driven back inside by police when he tried to flee out the back.
Police said Dorner, 33, had been holed up since Thursday in another cabin 20 to 30 yards from the site where news media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after his burned truck was found earlier that day.
He was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin. Dorner tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from a male driver. He tried to drive that truck away, according to the account, and ran from the truck after encountering state fish and wildlife officers searching cars leaving the mountain.
A man identified as Rick Heltebrake, who works at a Boy Scout camp in the Big Bear area, told KTLA-TV News that Dorner stole his truck from him at gunpoint.
Heltebrake said Dorner came right to the point: "He said, 'I don't want to hurt you. Just get out of the truck and start walking up the road.'" He asked if he could get his dog out of the back. Dorner said okay, but don't take time to get a leash.
After exchanging gunfire with officers, Dorner ran into the woods and broke into the cabin. As SWAT closed in, a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames. As the fire grew, more gunshots were heard - apparently ammunition ignited by the fire, authorities said.
Authorities let the cabin burn.
"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said sheriff's spokeswoman Bachman. "It's just not safe.''
The deputy's death in Tuesday's shootout was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his manifesto linked to a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the LAPD in 2009.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, raised from public and private sources, was offered. Police received more than 1,000 tips.
Dorner was charged with killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain and was the prime suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, on Jan. 29. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his firing after reporting alleged abuse by another officer. Randall Quan represented Dorner during his termination hearing.
At an early Tuesday evening news conference in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that "on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, our hearts and prayers are with the San Bernardino deputy who was shot and killed today."
"Our prayers are with the family, with the people of San Bernardino, with the police and the sheriff's department of that county. I want to thank them for their bravery." He also thanked the city's police officers, "who put their lives on the line every day."
The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said in a statement that deputies searching for Dorner had responded to a report of a stolen vehicle in the 1200 block of Club View Drive in Seven Oaks, outside Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.
"The reporting party said the suspect took their vehicle and described the suspect as looking very similar to Dorner,'' the department said. "Deputies immediately began a search on the ground and from the air for the vehicle.''
"The vehicle was located at Highway 38 and Glass Road. The suspect fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin,'' the department said.
A short time later, there was an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and the suspect. The officers' vehicle was peppered with multiple rounds, authorities said.
When deputies approached the cabin, one deputy was hit as Dorner fired out. A second deputy was wounded when Dorner went out the back of the cabin, set off a smoke bomb and opened fire again as he tried to flee, sources told the Los Angeles Times. He was driven back inside the cabin.
Contributing: John Bacon