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Christopher Dorner hostages in Big Bear say they were bound, gagged

2:30 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
Recent image released by Irvine Police Deaprtment on February 8, 2013 shows suspect Christopher Jordan Dorner, in the double-homicide that occurred in Irvine on Feb. 3, 2013.(Photo: Irvine Police Dept., AFP/Getty Images)
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Donna Leinwand Leger, Chris Woodyard and Michael Winter, USA TODAY

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. -- The owners of a cabin where fugitive Christopher Dorner is believed to have hidden out before making a getaway dash say they discovered Dorner when they visited their unoccupied apartment unit.

Jim and Karen Reynolds told reporters here Wednesday night that it was not two housekeepers, as widely reported, but they who discovered Dorner Tuesday morning in the unit where he had taken refuge.

"We happened to walk in on him,'' Karen Reynolds said. "He tried to calm us down, saying very frequently he would not kill us.''

The couple said Dorner tied them up, put washcloths in their mouths, used a cord to tie pillowcases over their heads and told them to keep quiet while he fled in their car. They said after he had been gone about a minute, they broke free and were able to contact authorities.

"You could tell he was professionally trained," Karen Reynolds said of Dorner, 33, who was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009.

Authorities were continuing the effort Thursday to determine if it was, in fact, Dorner's charred remains that were later found in the burned remnants of a nearby cabin. Law enforcement officials had cornered Dorner in the cabin, where he apparently made his deadly last stand.

"We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday.

He said deputies initially fired conventional "cold" tear gas into the cabin in Seven Oaks, near Big Bear Lake, then switched to "pyrotechnic-type" rounds" known as "burners."

Authorities have strong evidence that the man deputies tracked to the vacation cabin looked and behaved like Dorner, McMahon said. And though he still could not "absolutely, positively confirm" that the charred body found inside was Dorner's, the sheriff said the coroner would likely make the determination "soon."

A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner was found, the Associated Press reported earlier, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation.

"We believe the investigation is over at this point," McMahon said.

'No panic'
Rick Heltebrake, the Boy Scout camp manager whose truck Dorner commandeered Tuesday after abandoning the Reynolds' car, said Wednesday that he was exhausted from taking calls from news media and well-wishers all night.

"We just want to go on from here," Heltebrake said as he came by a police checkpoint in Angelus Oaks.

He described his encounter with the fugitive - which he said lasted about 10 seconds - as if it were a business transaction. A terrifying moment? "I didn't feel like it was. He said he didn't want to hurt me and I believed him," he said.

"There was no panic," Heltebrake said. "I got a little freaked (later) when I heard the gunfire."

He said Dorner was dressed in military-style camouflage and was toting only one weapon, a military-style rifle. The victim, who runs a camp for Boy Scouts of America, says he didn't get a good look at it because it was pointed right at him.

He added that Dorner did not look disheveled, unshaven or like a man whom might have been holed up under difficult conditions for a week.

He is grateful, in fact, that Dorner let him take his beloved 3-year-old Dalmatian, Suni, when he bailed from his truck.

"That was a little bit of compassion," he said.

The firefight
After abandoning the truck, police say Dorner fled to the cabin where the final shootout took place. Two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were shot, one fatally, before fire engulfed the cabin where Dorner took refuge after trading gunfire with California wildlife officers.

"It was horrifying to listen to that firefight, to hear those words 'officer down,' " Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said Wednesday. "Our deepest sympathy to the families" of the deputies who were shot, he said.

Detective Jeremiah MacKay, 35, a 15-year department veteran,was killed; Deputy Alex Collins was wounded and has undergone multiple surgeries.

Authorities have not identified the weapons or caliber of bullets used in Tuesday's firefight. McMahon said hundreds of rounds were fired.

"It was like a war zone, and our deputies continued to go into that area. The rounds kept coming and they did not give up," he said, calling his men "absolutely true heroes."

MacKay's death was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his Facebook manifesto outlined as a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the police force. Officials will re-examine allegations by Dorner that his law enforcement career was undone by racist colleagues.

Other victims include Riverside Officer Michael Crain, 34, who was fatally shot last week as he sat in his police cruiser. On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered for his funeral.

Police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others Dorner threatened in his manifesto until Dorner's death is confirmed, Neiman said.

On Tuesday, 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 after SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside as part of a "tactical operation" to flush out Dorner.

LAPD 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.

Neiman said it was not clear who, if anyone, might claim the reward if the body is confirmed to be that of Dorner.

Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles and John Bacon in McLean, Va.

USA TODAY

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