As the ground search resumed Saturday in Bear Bear for a disgruntled ex-cop suspected of hunting down LAPD officials and their families, authorities pledged to continue until they find Christopher Jordan Dorner.
Dorner, a 33-year-old former Los Angeles police officer, is suspected of killing three people and wounding two.
Officials with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said armored personnel carriers would be used to transport search teams into mountain areas, where they will comb the forest. With no sightings so far of Dorner, officials canceled a press briefing scheduled for noon Saturday.
The trail has gone cold since Dorner’s Nissan Titan pickup was found Thursday morning engulfed in flames on a U.S. Forest Service dirt road between the Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski resorts.
But Saturday could offer the clearest weather in days, and perhaps the best chance to find the alleged killer.
The mountain air was a crisp 19 degrees Saturday morning, with a thick blanket of snow covering the landscape. The National Weather Service said temperatures will climb to 31 degrees with little to no wind, mostly clear skies and no snow, preserving any tracks left overnight. A Pacific storm is expected to have fully cleared by Sunday.
Saturday morning, dozens of San Bernardino County SWAT officers were filling their bellies at the Best Western in Big Bear Lake, their vehicles idling and warming up. Later they would hit the road for their third day in the wilderness.
The day before, ski-masked SWAT teams went door-to-door checking hundreds of homes and shuttered cabins, as other authorities fanned out on foot, slogging through fresh snow with search dogs. The teams combed backcountry and checked every shed, trash bin and barrel where the fugitive could hide. Dorner is described as African American, 6 feet tall and weighing 270 pounds.
No one has seen Dorner or his tracks since Thursday and local residents are beginning to believe he got out of town before police locked down the area. Still some remain at the ready.
Roger Curtis, a retired carpenter who lives in Big Bear, said he was watching the manhunt on TV when a car alarm sounded. “I got the guns and loaded them,” he said.
Police say that Dorner has killed three people and injured others in a campaign to take revenge on those he blamed for his dismissal from the LAPD four years ago. Investigators are scrutinizing a conspiracy-laden manifesto published on what they believe was Dorner’s Facebook page. The screed threatened “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” against police officers and their families, saying that Dorner has no choice but to kill to reclaim his damaged reputation.
Police accuse him of killing the daughter of a retired LAPD captain and her fiance, who were found shot to death Sunday in a car in Irvine. While on the run, police said, Dorner shot three police officers, one fatally, in Riverside County.
With warnings on radio and TV that an armed and deadly fugitive remained at large, police spent hours chasing down bogus leads and erroneous sightings.
Dorner was driving a white Lexus near Barstow. He was spotted entering the county jail in downtown Los Angeles. He was holed up in a hotel in San Diego or in a park in Norco or at a home next to the Barona Indian Reservation in San Diego County. None of those tips checked out, and authorities are considering false reporting charges against one person who was more prankster than tipster.
“When you’re dealing with a case that’s getting this amount of press coverage, you’re going to get your share of bad information,” said Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI, whose agents searched Dorner’s home in Las Vegas and are investigating a package that CNN received, apparently from Dorner, that made various threats. Federal and local authorities also searched the home of his mother, Nancy Dorner, in La Palma, carrying out bags of potential evidence.
Meanwhile on Redbeam Avenue in Torrance, residents were still trying to make sense of the bullet holes police had left behind.
In their pursuit of Dorner, at least seven police officers opened fire on what turned out to be a mother and daughter delivering newspapers down a quiet residential street, law enforcement sources told The Times.
“How do you mistake two Hispanic women, one who is 71, for a large black male?” said Richard Goo, 62, who counted five bullet holes in the entryway to his house.
In an interview with The Times on Friday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, were the victims of “a tragic misinterpretation” by officers working under “incredible tension,” he said.
Beck and others stressed that the investigation into the shooting is in its infancy. They declined to say how many officers were involved, what kind of weapons they used, how many bullets were fired and, perhaps most important, what kind of verbal warnings — if any — were given to the women before the shooting began.
Glen T. Jonas, the attorney representing the women, said the police officers gave “no commands, no instructions and no opportunity to surrender” before opening fire. Jonas estimated that the officers fired between 20 and 30 rounds. Photographs of the back of the truck showed at least two dozen bullet holes. Neighbors, however, suggested there were more shots fired.
Kathy Merkosky, 53, was outside her stucco home pointing out the six bullet holes in the bumper and grill of her silver Acura MD-X. She knew her truck was damaged when she spotted it on television and “saw fluid flowing into the street.”
Her Ford Focus was hit as well — a bullet shattered the windshield and another flattened a front tire.
“I’ve never heard gunfire on my street,” Merkosky said. “Or ever in my life…. I hope they catch the guy so all this craziness will end.”