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Details on Dorner's Last Stand Revealed, Including The Shot That Killed Him
Authorities with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department today revealed details about the final hours of fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner's life, and the deadly last stand at a mountain cabin outside of Big Bear.
Sheriff John McMahon said that Dorner's body was found in a basement area of the Big Bear cabin that was burned to the ground during a standoff this week. His autopsy, conducted by the Riverside County Coroner, took about six hours to complete, and it found that the 33-year-old Dorner died of a "single gunshot wound to the head." SBCSD says evidence "seems to indicate that the wound that took Dorner's life was self-inflicted." Dorner's body has been transferred to the SBCSD's morgue and will be released soon, though those details are not available.
Information about the tactical operation that ensued at the cabin where Dorner was hiding were also revealed for the first time during today's news conference.
The SBCSD explained that they put cold tear gas in first. They attempted to ascertain Dorner's location and activities within the house through windows they broke, however Dorner set off "smoke" inside the cabin to obscure his actions. Hoping they could drive Dorner out of the cabin to a surrender, they opted to put in a "pyrotechnic chemical agent," which are the gas "burners" that have the potential to not only set off large amounts of gas but also the potential to catch fire.
This tactic has drawn criticism, but McMahon stands by prior assertions that burning the building was not the goal of the "burners," though an acknowledged possibility. Comments recorded from the area indicate unidentified personnel saying "let's burn this down." McMahon says the SBCSD intends to look into who may have said that, since those comments were not "made by someone away from the tactical team." McMahon added that his deputies "are human beings" and "sometimes, because we are humans, we say things that may or may not be appropriate."
Hoping the "burners" would "be enough to force [Dorner] out," authorities said they waited for movement from within. Instead, they heard "a distinct single gunshot" from within the house, a sound described as being much different than the sounds generated by other weapons used in the prior gunfights with Dorner.
By this time, the fire had broken out and was spreading. As the fire burned, numerous rounds of ammunition were heard going off within the cabin, creating what authorities say was a very dangerous situation. Personnel on scene heard "round after round after round" go off.
The cabin was too dangerous to enter for some time, and only a few hours later was it was safe enough to approach to put out the flames and eventually turn the scene over to investigators.
McMahon explained how it was that deputies could be so close to the Big Bear cabin where Dorner ultimately held Jim and Karen Reynolds hostage. He said that deputies were under orders not to kick down the doors of homes that were locked up and unresponsive to deputies. They looked for signs of forced entry or other signs that something was amiss at unit 203, but they found nothing. The door to that unit was locked, and since there were no signs of distress, they moved on to other units. The Reynolds explained they had actually left the door unlocked for a maintenance person, which is how Dorner obtained access to the cabin in the first place.
McMahon noted that in hindsight, it might have been a blessing that officers did not run into Dorner at that condo, given his aggressive behavior toward law enforcement personnel over the previous week.
What remains unclear is how Dorner made it to the Reynolds' condo with his massive arsenal of weapons without being detected; that portion of the investigation remains ongoing. There does not appear to be any indication so far that Dorner had help in Big Bear.
The Reynolds were able to contact authorities and give them information about the suspect who was in their condo, and that he matched the description of Dorner. They provided authorities with information about their vehicle, which Dorner had taken.
Once that vehicle was encountered by the SBCSD, Det. Jeremiah MacKay and deputy Alex Collins were ambushed by Dorner, before they could even draw their guns. At the time, backup was arriving at the scene. MacKay and Collins were taken out by gunfire at that location, which is where they were found by the personnel arriving on scene.
The SBCSD walked the media through items found at the cabin and in vehicles occupied by Dorner, including numerous assault weapons, numerous semi automatic handguns (including a sniper rifle), several high capacity magazines, and numerous canisters of gas and smoke. They also recovered a tactical-style vest worn by Dorner outfitted with ammunition and gas canisters, as well as a military-style helmet. 10 suppressors or "silencers" used with the weapons were also recovered.
Read our full coverage on the Christopher Dorner case here.
LAist editor Emma Gallegos contributed to this post.