Loose Ends: Final Details in Christopher Dorner’s Death
By Jesse B. Gill
San Bernardino County sheriff’s officials held a conference Friday to give a kind of final rundown on how they say Dorner—an ex-LAPD cop accused of killing four people, two of them law enforcement officers—died.
Officials say Dorner took his own life, shooting himself in the head as the cabin on 7 Oaks Road in Angelus Oaks burned down around him. That day, officials said there was a gunshot heard as the cabin burned, but then couldn’t say what that was. On Friday, they confirmed that the gunshot was Dorner taking his own life.
And of course, after just about everyone could figure out that it was Dorner inside that burning cabin, the day it burned, neither the LAPD nor local officials would confirm it was him. On Friday, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told everyone what they already knew—they used dental records to confirm that Dorner was inside and he was dead.
Several other details came to light since the last time we’ve visited this national story. For one, remember the cleaning ladies that Dorner allegedly took captive as he hid in a different cabin in Big Bear Lake? Yeah, they weren’t cleaning ladies. They were Jim and Karen Reynolds, the couple that owned that cabin.
Officials say Dorner got into the Reynolds’ cabin Feb. 7 through an unlocked door after setting his truck on fire. They believe the accused killer hid there for five days. McMahon said deputies checked the cabin as they did some 400 other homes in the area. But since Dorner locked the door behind him as he entered, deputies did not have the authority to just bust into a home that bore no marks of forced entry.
The Reynolds told reporters that they walked into the cabin about noon on Feb. 12 and Dorner was there. Karen said she tried to run but Dorner stopped her.
He bound the couple and placed pillowcases over their heads, the Reynolds said. But he told them both he had no plans on killing them and said he only wanted to clear his name and that he needed to get out of there.
Later, when Dorner allegedly carjacked a man named Rick Heltebrake, he reportedly told the man the same thing—he didn’t plan to hurt him.
And Feb. 13, a day after everything came to an end, I walked up to the door of the Reynolds cabin. I wasn’t the only journalist to realize that the cabin was just across the street from the command post in the parking lot of Bear Mountain Ski Resort that had been teeming all week with heavily-armed law enforcement officers tasked with finding Dorner.
Starting on Feb. 7, the day Dorner’s Nissan Titan was found on fire in Big Bear Lake, media briefings were held in a spot less than 100 yards from the cabin’s front door. If Dorner wanted a clear line of sight to fire on the gathering of journalists being briefed by sheriff’s officials, he could have at any moment. But he didn’t. For what it’s worth, I think that means something.
Assuming that Dorner actually wrote the rambling manifesto that’s now made its way across the entire Internet several times and back, the only people he said he wanted to kill, he never did—LAPD officers. He did take the life of a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy during the Angelus Oaks shootout, officials said. Officials released that deputy’s name Feb. 13—Jeremiah MacKay, 34, of Redlands. He was a married, 15-year department veteran with a 7-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son.
Dorner also wounded a deputy in that shootout, officials said. Alex Collins. McMahon said Collins was severely wounded, but with surgery, he’s expected to fully recover.
Sheriff’s Capt. Gregg Herbert said MacKay and Collns were speaking with other deputies in the street, trying to come up with a plan when Dorner opened fire on them, hitting both men multiple times.
Sheriff’s officials announced that funeral services for MacKay will be held Feb. 21 at San Manuel Amphitheatre in Devore.
MacKay’s death brings Dorner’s alleged death toll to four.
Sheriff’s officials laid the weapons out for reporters to see during the Friday conference, among them were assault rifles, semi automatic handguns, gas canisters and a sniper rifle. The weapons were presented as if to underscore officials’ claims that Dorner was armed to the teeth and extremely dangerous.
Yet no one set the Angelus Oaks cabin on fire intentionally, according to Herbert. Tactical decisions were devised with the intent to force Dorner to surrender.
During the media coverage on the ground during the shootout, a deputy was heard on tape implying that burning down the cabin would be the best way to deal with Dorner. McMahon said that deputy—who wasn’t named—will himself be dealt with.
So by now, the details seem to be out in the open, or at least as much as law enforcement officials want them to be. As ever, details—many of them not even true—flew fast and furious and it was difficult to suss out what was real and what wasn’t. But now we know.
And is there more to the story? Undoubtedly. I’m eager to hear the results of the LAPD’s investigations into the corruption claims Dorner made in his alleged manifesto. His allegations aren’t, by any means, outlandish or unbelievable, especially when considering the LAPD’s history.
But whatever the LAPD’s investigation reveals, it’s difficult to believe that they’d find anything that would justify the killings of four people.
Contact Jesse B. Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IEW_WatchDog.