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Letter from the Police Foundation
For nine days in early February 2013, like millions of Americans, I was glued to news reports of a former police and naval officer who was targeting police officers and their families. It was one of the most bizarre and violent acts of vengeance against law enforcement officers this country has experienced. By the time he was finally stopped, Christopher Dorner had murdered four people and wounded several others. His threats and actions put Southern California policing agencies in an unprecedented collective state of alert – one in which both excellent and heroic police work was done and some regrettable decisions were made.
This incident represents a sentinel event in American policing – one that serves as a warning of needed changes in parts of our public safety system. For the first time, a trained former police officer was hunting cops and their families, exploiting jurisdictional boundaries and using legally-acquired sophisticated, high-powered weaponry. And he did this in a highly public way that provided a template for others who may seek to terrorize this great country and target the people charged with protecting its citizens.
The challenges confronting the principal law enforcement agencies in this incident were immense. It took place over a wide expanse of Southern California where more than 20 million people live, work and play. It encompassed urban, suburban and mountainous geography. It was worked in balmy weather and a freezing blizzard. It required the coordination of thousands of hard-charging police officers, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol officers and state and federal special agents. And they engaged the incident with different policies and practices, from differing organizational cultures and utilizing frequently incompatible communications systems.
At the core of the Police Foundation’s mission is the notion of “advancing policing.” This is accomplished through a variety of mechanisms, but central is the idea that new learning – and therefore advancements – can be acquired through examining policing-involved critical incidents. This is certainly true of this incident.
Reviews like this are intended to transform “lessons learned” to “lessons applied” in the hopes of enhancing the safety of officers and the public. In emphasizing this, we affix no blame to those who tried desperately to apprehend Dorner and save lives. To do so dishonors their sacrifices and diverts attention from increasing our understanding about protecting society and keeping cops safe.
Covering every aspect of this very complicated incident would result in a book-length document. To keep the project manageable, we focused on the most important “lessons learned” that can be generalized to a wide range of circumstances and jurisdictions. Accordingly, we have tried to accomplish three broad goals:
- Present the facts and our recommendations in an objective manner that respects the professionalism, dedication and heroism of the law enforcement officers involved in this incident, and honors the sacrifice of those whose lives were lost by helping prevent the injury and death of other officers or civilians in the future;
- Highlight this as a sentinel event in which we identify underlying weaknesses in the regional public safety system, preventable errors and recommendations for avoiding similar tragic outcomes; and,
- • Use multi-media to provide an immersive experience to a wide breadth of readers that gives them a better understanding of the complicated nature of such events and how dangerous they are to the peace officers trying to stop highly motivated criminals.
Our examination of this incident begins with the murders of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence in Irvine, CA and concludes with the murder of Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, the wounding of Deputy Alex Collins and Dorner’s suicide in the mountains of San Bernardino County. In our quest to tease out lessons which we can generalize across the nation, we did not examine every aspect of the incident. Our observations and recommendations are based on our understanding of both the many successes and the relatively few errors that occurred throughout the course of it. They are not intended for the sole use of the involved agencies, as they have each conducted their own internal reviews. Rather, they are aimed at improving American policing’s response to similar critical incidents through changes in policy, practice, organizational culture and an increased understanding of the nature of preventable error.
Several aspects of this incident distinguish it from other critical incidents:
- While threats to police officers are a daily occurrence and an unfortunate reality of the job, never before have American law enforcement officers and their families been hunted like they were in this incident;
- The scope and scale of the LAPD protective detail was unlike any American law enforcement has ever experienced. When the threats to their officers became known, the leadership of the LAPD was faced with rapidly standing up more than 70 separate, 24-hour/7-day a week protective details in an area encompassing more than 2,000 square miles. This necessitated the use of hundreds of its employees in many places outside its jurisdiction. In spite of this monumental task, once it became aware of the threat, the LAPD was able to effectively protect the people Dorner intended to harm;
- The speed at which the incident unfolded, and the diverse and expansive geography in which it occurred, presented serious and unparalleled coordination and communications challenges to the multitude of agencies involved; and,
- The search for Dorner carried out by the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department (SBSD) was unique and extremely challenging. The final phase of this incident took place in the San Bernardino National Forest – America’s most heavily populated national forest. It has thousands of homes and vacation cabins, many of which are frequently unoccupied and located on narrow, twisting roads. It has several ski resorts and other winter recreational venues that attract tens of thousands of visitors to the mountain daily. During the initial part of the search for Dorner a raging blizzard significantly complicated operations. In spite of these challenges, SBSD deputies were ultimately able to box the suspect into an area where his escape was futile and his violent rampage was stopped. And they did so while managing what were tantamount to three separate, simultaneous events – the search itself, the huge influx into the mountains of law enforcement personnel and the arrival of a virtual army of assertive media representatives.
As much as we seek the security of believing that policing activities are always smoothly carried out, the reality is that due to exigent and uncontrollable circumstances they are frequently spontaneous and confusing. When unparalleled critical incidents like this one occur, law enforcement personnel are required to act quickly to protect civilians and their fellow officers. And things usually end well. But events can unfold very, very fast and sometimes errors are made. This is akin to the much-documented “fog of war” where “things happen” and unintended consequences occur.
I spent more than 30 years as a police officer and police chief, so I have a personal frame of reference for the magnitude of what the involved departments confronted. And I am, quite literally, in awe of what they accomplished. I believe the law enforcement professionals involved in this incident overwhelmingly performed in an effective and heroic manner. Two of them, Officer Michael Crain and Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, made the ultimate sacrifice and will be remembered forever as the heroes they were.
I am grateful to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck, Riverside Chief of Police Sergio Diaz, Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard, Corona Chief of Police Michael Abel and recently retired Torrance Chief of Police John Neu. None of these leaders were compelled to cooperate with us on this review. They did so willingly to help advance American policing and help keep cops and civilians safe. They truly represent some of the best in American policing leadership.
I want to acknowledge the dedicated professionalism of the many law enforcement personnel involved in this incident. In addition to the SBSD and the LAPD, I want to highlight the great work done by members of the Irvine, Corona, Riverside and National City Police Departments as well as their numerous local, state and federal partners. This incident is replete with examples too numerous to cite of cops, civilian employees and volunteers accomplishing great things in very difficult circumstances. Few people have had to overcome the kind of challenges they confronted. I am truly amazed by what they accomplished. And I am equally saddened by their losses.
I am also extremely grateful to the dozens of commanders, supervisors, detectives, officers and deputies who generously gave us their time. They answered all of our questions candidly, even though many of them were painful. I will be forever thankful for their willingness to relive their stress and heartbreaks through the re-telling of their experiences. It was only through their eyes that we were able to gain a true understanding of this complex incident.
I am thankful to ESRI, the world’s leader in geographic systems software, for the assistance its employees gave us in constructing the review’s story map – a first in critical incident reviews.
I would like to express my gratitude for the hard work of our review team: Chief Rick Braziel (ret.), Chief Barney Melekian (ret.), Sheriff Sue Rahr (ret.), Professor Jeff Rojek, Jim Specht and Dr. Travis Taniguchi worked tirelessly to present this review in a compelling and useful manner. I would also like to thank retired San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops for his invaluable assistance in conceptualizing the project.
Finally, this review is dedicated to the memory of Monica Quan, Keith Lawrence, Michael Crain and Jeremiah MacKay. May we remember them not for how they died, but for the way they lived. And may we honor them by diligently applying the lessons we have learned.
Chief Jim Bueermann (ret.)
The response to an “attack on our own”
When a young couple sitting in their car was shot to death in the quiet upscale suburb of Irvine, CA in early February 2013, local police were jolted by a nearly unprecedented murder. It had all the earmarks of a gangland “hit” – and there was little evidence to determine who was behind the killing or what the motive might be.
Over the next ten days, the shocking whodunit facing Irvine police grew into a terrifying experience for all Southern California law enforcement personnel and their families, as online threats by a rogue former LAPD officer were followed by lightning bolt attacks that killed one officer and wounded three others in different cities within an hour. By the time Christopher Dorner was cornered and ultimately took his own life, he had shot another officer to death and had seriously wounded one more.
The police response and manhunt for Dorner became a two-week national event that involved thousands of officers across Southern California. It included many scenes of intense bravery and selflessness by the officers involved. Moreover, it was solved in a surprisingly short time by the combined professionalism and police expertise of departments ranging from San Bernardino County on the east to National City in San Diego County in the south.
Following the narrative of the incident from beginning to end reveals how quickly events moved. It was barely 12 hours from the discovery of the Facebook posting that convinced police Dorner was a prime suspect until the fatal attack on the Riverside Police Department officers. In that short time, the LAPD managed the herculean task of locating, assigning, and dispatching hundreds of officers to protect dozens of families throughout Southern California. Nothing similar had ever been done before, and the LAPD was universally praised for accomplishing it with minimal disruption to the department’s day-to-day responsibilities.
However, the review also revealed the problems still faced by policing a region of 10 counties and dozens of cities and towns, which are growing increasingly into one homogenous population of 22 million people. In some ways, Dorner was an anomaly – a well-armed attacker who knew police tactics. But police chiefs and county sheriffs involved in the incident agree that a small force of knowledgeable terrorists bent on creating havoc could easily replicate such attacks.
Everyone who lived through the attacks knows such things can happen again.
Each department has meticulously analyzed its own response. The chiefs and sheriffs involved believed it would be useful to have a unified report on the successes and challenges created by the interaction of so many law enforcement agencies.
With the strong support of San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, the Police Foundation assembled a team of law enforcement leaders to review the response from a regional perspective. The team spent hundreds of hours interviewing personnel, reviewing evidence, and visiting crime scenes to prepare a report that lays out the challenges faced and provides a foundation for the region’s police leaders to resolve them for future incidents.
This report attempts, for the first time, to give a regional view of the police response from their perspective, and outlines particular challenges that were revealed.
Among the key findings:
- The LAPD, the nation’s third-largest police force, had to mobilize within a few hours on February 6, 2013 to protect dozens of threatened officers and their families – nearly all of whom lived outside the city limits. The challenges presented by this effort revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department has become a regional agency that has influence far beyond its jurisdictional boundaries.
- Regional communication problems among police departments throughout Southern California – long a source of concern in both natural disaster and potential terrorist scenarios – posed a potential danger to both the public and officers in the ten days surrounding the manhunt for Dorner.
- The need for a rapid and effective communication system within the Southern California Region was underscored when its absence left two officers following an extremely dangerous suspect with only cell phones to call in their location or status to local police.
- Command and control problems led to hundreds of officers converging on the scene of an active shooting, most with no understanding of what their role would be or how to interact with the command structure at the scene. Other problems resulted from officers within the same department self-deploying in conflicting and potentially dangerous ways.
- Many officers received their information from television and the Internet, leaving departments unable to keep up with the instantaneous availability of information.
- Efforts to create a regional command center helped organize a nationwide manhunt and sort through thousands of tips. But varying levels of participation by agencies hindered the construction of a unified response.
- The inevitable tension between investigators preparing evidence for a possible trial, and teams involved in an active manhunt, was amplified by the lack of early collaboration between departments. While top managers worked quickly to resolve these issues, gatekeepers at a variety of supervisory levels hampered the flow of information, concerns, and command decisions.
- Dealing with the impact of external sources of “social media,” especially Facebook and online discussions, involved many hours of effort that was a distraction and in many cases caused delays or misrepresentations that hindered how police viewed the case and how it could be resolved.
Overwhelmingly, the Police Foundation team found that the officers and deputies involved in the response to the Dorner incident felt that they were under attack. They were even more concerned about threats against their families – to the extent that many who were not even directly involved took pains to “clear” their own residences before they allowed their family members inside. They were frustrated and angered by some media reports and Internet campaigns that portray Dorner as a victim and a vigilante trying to right a wrong. Police point out that Dorner killed two unknowing victims with chilling ruthlessness, and killed two police officers in ambushes.
While the attacks were portrayed as only being directed toward police, the disruption they caused put an entire region at risk. Many have pointed out similarities in these events to those of the Beltway Sniper incidents around Washington, D.C., in which mystery shooters killed 10 people over three weeks in 2002, leaving the entire region in turmoil.
Law enforcement leaders know that it is vital to prepare for the possible repeat of these kinds of regional attacks by a terrorist group whose goal may be to distract law enforcement from its real objectives.
It is hoped that the findings in this report will provide a starting point for those discussions and planning efforts.
The murder of Monica Quan & Keith Lawrence
It was the kind of killing almost never seen in one of the safest cities in America – a young couple shot at close range while they sat in their still-running car in a parking garage in the midst of hundreds of condominiums. The only evidence consisted of 9-mm shell casings and a small beanie cap. Not a single neighbor had heard or seen a thing.
Irvine, California is a quiet city of 235,000 residents, an upscale Orange County suburb that many consider the epitome of a planned community. The police department may see two or three murders a year, nearly always the result of a domestic dispute that is quickly resolved.
The big news on Feb. 3, 2013, was expected to be that the Baltimore Ravens had defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. However, that was soon to change for the Irvine Police Department.
The call came in about 9 p.m.: Two people were found shot to death in their vehicle on the top floor of a gated condominium-parking garage near the University of California, Irvine campus. When police arrived, it was obvious that this was not a simple crime of passion said Sgt. Bill Bingham of the Irvine Detective Bureau.
The car’s engine was still running with headlights on, and a man and woman were slumped in their seats. Fourteen shell casings were found around the car, and it was clear that the shooting was not a murder-suicide or a robbery. The woman’s engagement ring was still on her hand. It looked more like a hit job – the kind of cold-blooded killing that never happens in Irvine.
Looking for clues to the victim’s identity, detectives noticed the car had a University of Southern California parking sticker. They called in the sticker number to USC, and were told it belonged to one of the University’s Public Safety Officers – Keith Lawrence. The description they received appeared to fit the murdered driver.
Irvine Police Chief David Maggard called in his entire investigative team. The first 48 hours were the most critical in solving these violent crimes, and he put the resources of the whole department on the case.
Few details were released to the media, but the crime was so unusual that it made the evening news throughout Southern California. Among those watching the broadcasts was Randal Quan, a retired captain from the Los Angeles Police Department. The location of the murders and the description of the victims filled him with dread: He knew his daughter Monica and her fiancée Keith Lawrence had driven home to Irvine after spending the day with Lawrence’s family. Monica always called him when she was home safe – and he had been unable to reach her all evening.
Quan called Irvine Police with his fears and a description of the clothes Monica and Keith had been wearing. They were identified as the murdered couple. Knowing who they were just deepened the mystery of how this could have happened, Maggard said.
Monica Quan, 28, and Keith Lawrence, 27, had become sweethearts at Concordia University in Irvine. They starred on the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, and remained devoted to their sport. Quan had recently become an assistant women’s basketball coach at California State University, Fullerton. Lawrence had trained at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Academy and had worked for the Oxnard, CA, Police Department before joining the USC Department of Public Safety. Their memorial service at Concordia drew crowds and included four hours of tributes from family and friends.
How such a highly regarded young couple could be murdered in a gang-style hit was one of many mysteries surrounding the case confronting the Irvine investigators. Maggard said he was frustrated that none of the nearby neighbors seemed to have heard the 14 shots from a high-powered pistol in the echoing parking garage. Only later would they learn that Dorner used a suppressor on his murder weapon. The only clue, other than the shells, appeared to be a dark green beanie-style cap found near the car.
Dorner a suspect
It was a “real whodunit,” Maggard said, causing Irvine detectives to go “24-7” in an effort to find some clues to the mystery. Detective Vicky Hurtado said investigators were still looking at nearly everyone as a possible suspect when the department received a bolt out of the blue thanks to the diligence of a police officer nearly 100 miles south in National City, near the Mexican border.
Early Monday, Feb. 4, National City Police Officer Paul Hernandez was handed his own mystery. Workers at an auto repair shop across the street from police headquarters discovered a wealth of odd items in trash dumpsters behind the store: a bulletproof helmet, body armor, a military-style belt strap, bullets and parts of a police uniform that Hernandez identified as LAPD from its buttons. The uniform still had a nameplate inscribed “Dorner.”
Hernandez wondered if the items might have been stolen from an officer – “I’d sure want to get them back if they were mine.” Hernandez also found a small notebook with the name and serial number of LAPD Officer Teresa Evans in the shirt’s pocket. The LAPD was called and they said there was no officer at the department named Dorner. However, they did have a Sgt. Evans, and would leave her a message.
Before Hernandez finished booking the property, Evans called him – she knew the name Dorner all too well. In 2007, she had been partnered with Officer Christopher Dorner as his training officer. The partnership had ended in a prolonged dispute when Dorner accused her of kicking a suspect during an altercation. A disciplinary review hearing had cleared Evans and convinced LAPD officials that Dorner had lied because he was about to receive a negative review. A Board of Rights hearing had found Dorner guilty of lying, and he was fired by the LAPD in 2009. He appealed to the Superior Court and the State Court of Appeals over the next two years, but the firing was upheld in both courts.
The discovery of Dorner’s abandoned uniform and other items nagged at Evans – she had always been fearful that he might try to seek revenge. When she went to work for her night shift, that concern became a chilling fear when she learned about the murders of retired Capt. Randy Quan’s daughter and future son-in-law. She knew that Quan was a lawyer and had served as a defense representative for a number of LAPD officers facing Board of Rights hearings. He had represented Dorner in those hearings several years before. The connection between Dorner and Quan led her to call the Irvine Police Department watch commander the night of Feb. 5.
Irvine detective Sgt. Bill Bingham had gone home to get a little sleep after working on the double-homicide for 30 hours but when he got the call from the watch commander about Evans’ tip, he called back right away. Evans told him about the connection between Dorner and Quan and the Board of Rights hearing.
Irvine PD investigators drove down to National City early on Wednesday, Feb. 6, and spoke with National City Police Department investigators about the items recovered from the dumpster. Upon their arrival in National City, Dorner was merely a person of interest to Irvine Police. Within hours that would change. The National City Police, in response, would reach out to their contacts in Mexico and the United States Navy in attempts to locate Dorner.
The investigators found that the auto repair shop had a surveillance camera and checked the tape. It revealed a large African-American man methodically dumping the police equipment into the dumpsters from his dark-colored Nissan Titan pickup truck. He matched Evan’s description of Dorner. Some of the ammunition in the dumpster was similar to the shells found at the Irvine crime scene.
Lead Irvine investigator Vicky Hurtado, and most of the Irvine police personnel, had been up 24 hours or more, running down possible leads about criminals who might have known Lawrence during his police training and those who had dated Lawrence and Quan. Officers had handed out cards asking for information to drivers along Scholarship Drive where the garage was located.
Now there was a new lead. Like many departments, Irvine has detectives whose job includes tracking down information on suspects on social media like Facebook and other areas of the Internet. By 1:59 p.m. Feb. 6, an Internet search had turned up a document on Dorner’s Facebook page labeled “From: Christopher Dorner; To: America; Subj: Last Resort.”
The document, which became known as Dorner’s manifesto, claimed that the investigation into the kicking incident and the Board of Rights hearing had been unjust and stacked against him. He made unequivocal threats toward Quan, Evans and all of the other officers involved with his firing. It laid out grievances against some Black, Hispanic, and Asian commanders and called them “high value targets.” Dorner promised to use intelligence tactics to discover the schools of the LAPD officers’ children and the workplaces of their spouses. “I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I’m terminating yours. Quan, Anderson, Evans and BOR members Look your wives/husbands and surviving children directly in the face and tell them the truth as to why your children are dead.”
To Irvine investigators, the document appeared to be a written confession that Dorner had killed Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence. It was also clearly a continuing threat to the other LAPD officers who were named. Maggard had his officers call Teresa Evans and Randal Quan right away, and alerted LAPD. Here was a suspect who had previously been one of their own – he knew their tactics and presented a dangerous challenge. Dorner showed that he knew how to avoid detection and may have laid a false trail in San Diego.
The double homicide in quiet Irvine quickly became a regional Southern California incident, and soon would become national news. The Irvine Police Department headquarters was transformed over the next two hours into an Emergency Operations Center hosting LAPD officers, U.S. Marshal’s Office investigators, and the FBI. The LAPD offered whatever support it could, and Maggard was glad to have the backup. The whodunit had turned into an urgent manhunt.
As the EOC began humming with activity, the first official announcement of the search for Dorner was distributed regionally in the form of a law enforcement wanted bulletin. Aided by the sophisticated fugitive tracking capabilities of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Irvine investigators found and interviewed Dorner’s mother and sister, as well as others who had known him. Investigators found that Dorner had a house in Las Vegas, and had spent a lot of time at shooting ranges in the area. He had bought and sold dozens of weapons, and he had 70 currently registered in his name. Among them were a number of .223 caliber semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and numerous 9 mm Glock handguns – the type Irvine investigators determined was used in the murder of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence.
In his online rant, Dorner claimed to have a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle and that he had purchased noise suppressors for his weapons using a National Firearms Act Trust in Nevada, where they are legal. Maggard determined that the “manifesto” was a dangerous document and important to the investigation, so he assigned an officer to convince Facebook to pull it from public view. Irvine Deputy Chief Mike Hamel and Public Information Officer Lt. Julia Engen had just returned from a conference on social media, and they found an immediate use for the contacts they had developed there.
“We spent an hour trying to take (the Facebook post) down – we wanted to avoid the kind of hysteria that played out when the ‘manifesto’ became public. They were cooperative and worked with us on it – but it turned out to be too late.”
– Irvine Police Chief Dave Maggard
At 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6 – just 8 hours after investigators had seen Christopher Dorner on the National City video feed – the Irvine Police Department called a press conference to declare Dorner a suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence. One of the first reporters to approach Chief Maggard for an interview already had Dorner’s online rant on an electronic tablet. The story was out: A former LAPD officer had declared war on the department, and was accused of murdering the daughter of a former LAPD captain and her fiancé, a Peace Officer with the University of Southern California.
Mobilization of the LAPD
The Los Angeles Police Department has more than 10,000 sworn officers and patrols 473 square miles. Its detectives deal with 300 homicides each year, and have developed some of the most sophisticated crime-solving methods in the nation. The LAPD is considered one of the most progressive forces in the nation.
So top officials in the department were mystified that a probationary officer who had been fired nearly four years earlier had suddenly begun lethal attacks on the families of LAPD officers. Very little had been heard from Dorner since his February 2009 firing and subsequent efforts to overturn the firing in court. However, the evidence seemed clear from the Irvine slayings and the posting of the “manifesto” – Dorner was an extremely serious threat to LAPD officers and their families.
Capt. William Hayes, who heads the LAPD’s Robbery and Homicide Division, was given the assignment to quickly assess exactly who in the department was at risk, and what level of risk each person faced. No crime had been committed in the LAPD jurisdiction, so the department’s response bore similarities to preparing for a terrorist threat
Investigators combed through Dorner’s online document and developed a list of who might be at risk. Hayes said the department called in a team of experts to assess the level of threat – including behavioral scientists, FBI analysts, and department psychologists. The resulting list eventually grew to 77 protected locations, which were scattered across the entire Southern California region.
Some of Dorner’s targets were obvious and got immediate protection. The Long Beach Police Department agreed to watch over Sgt. Teresa Evans’ home. They sent a SWAT team and eventually relocated her and her family. Members of the Board of Review who were named in the Dorner rant were scattered from Irvine in Orange County, to Torrance in the southwest portion of Los Angeles County, to Corona in western Riverside County. Local departments sent officers to watch the homes and families, waiting for what the LAPD would decide to do next.
Hayes said the department felt that it could not impose on smaller police agencies to protect its officers and their families around the clock. Within hours, the Office of Operations reassigned officers from throughout the force, eventually putting together a protective detail of hundreds of officers – the operation became so large it required activation of the department’s operations center with around-the-clock dedicated staff. The officers were warned about Dorner’s arsenal and his threats to shoot police on sight, and began to deploy late on Wednesday, Feb. 6 to schools and homes throughout Southern California. They began their protection duty at about the time Irvine police were holding their press conference. The urgency of the assignment meant there was little time for training, and arrangements for communications were rushed.
A tragedy in Riverside
Television viewers around Southern California became aware of Dorner at 8 p.m. when Chief Maggard’s press conference was broadcast live and local stations focused on the “manifesto” and his threats to the LAPD. He was called a decorated naval veteran and a skilled marksman. Reporters speculated that Dorner could be anywhere from Ventura County to San Diego County, where the discarded items and video had been found.
Investigators learned late that evening that Dorner was indeed still in San Diego. At about 10 p.m., he had tied up an 81-year-old man at the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego Bay and tried to hijack his boat to Mexico. He got one of the lines caught in the propeller and stalled the engine. Once he had left, the boat owner was able to attract attention by yelling.
A crew of investigators, including Detective Hurtado and three FBI Agents, drove down from the Irvine EOC to investigate the incident, and San Diego County police agencies staked out hotels and other promising locations. They converged on one hotel lobby with sirens blaring, but it was a false alarm. Dorner had stayed two nights at the Navy Inn at Naval Station Point Loma, near the San Diego International Airport but did not return. Law enforcement officials had no real idea of Dorner’s whereabouts. That would soon change dramatically.
Tow-truck driver R. Lee McDaniel was out on his job that night and had stopped about 1 a.m. at a minimarket and gas station at the Weirick Road exit off Interstate 15 near Corona. The interstate is an interior artery north from San Diego County, and eventually becomes the route Southern Californians drive to Las Vegas.
McDaniel had seen some of the reports about Dorner and was startled to see a dark gray Nissan pickup drive into the station and a man matching Dorner’s description get out. McDaniel had access to state motor vehicle records and checked the license plate, which came up negative. But he remained convinced that it was the right man as Dorner pulled out of the station and headed away from the freeway onramp.
Moments later, LAPD officers Cesar Chavez and Mario Vega pulled into the gas station. They planned to pick up coffee and snacks to tide them over during a shift protecting one of Dorner’s targets who lived in Corona. McDaniel ran to the patrol car and told them he was convinced Dorner had just left. As they were talking, the gray Nissan pickup drove past again, pulling onto the freeway this time.
Chavez and Vega pulled out, and the pickup sped away. Because they were out of radio range, one officer grabbed his cell phone to report in, but the phone fell and became unworkable. About five miles up the freeway, the Nissan pulled off the interstate at the Magnolia Avenue exit. As the patrol car sped down the long off-ramp, the windshield exploded and shots began slamming into the car. Investigators later determined that Dorner had pulled off the road and began shooting at the patrol car as soon as it came around a bend. Shells found at the scene and witness statements showed he shot an AR-15 at the officers 29 times – using a noise suppressor to keep them from hearing the shots before they were hit. One bullet grazed an officer’s head, but fortunately, neither officer was seriously injured.
The shooter jumped into his truck and drove away as the officers were left with a now disabled patrol car. Still without radio contact, they flagged down a civilian and used another cell phone to call 911 at 1:23 a.m. and report the incident to the California Highway Patrol. By 1:27 a.m., Corona Police Department officers arrived and an ambulance had been called for the wounded LAPD officer. Taking a report, officers at the scene determined that Dorner had changed the plates on his truck to avoid detection.
At 1:31 a.m., a “be on the lookout” (BOLO) advisory was sent to law enforcement agencies, warning that Dorner had been seen in the area and had attacked two LAPD officers without warning.
The Riverside Police Department, just north of the Corona shooting scene, had been on alert since the Irvine Police Department wanted bulletin had gone out at 3:40 p.m. on Feb 6th. Detective Jim Lopez had a long career at the LAPD before coming to Riverside. Chief Sergio Diaz had been an LAPD Deputy Chief. Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer had also had an extensive LAPD career before coming to Riverside.
Lopez started to look into Dorner after he received the Irvine Police arrest bulletin to see if Chief Diaz or Deputy Chief Greer would need special protection. He had read the “manifesto” and became alarmed enough to send out special alerts to area police departments, warning that Dorner could be especially dangerous to officers based on his writings and because of his weapons.
At 1:33 a.m. Feb. 7, Officers Michael Crain and Andrew Tachias pulled up to a red light at the intersection of Magnolia Avenue and Arlington Avenue, following their regular patrol route.
The major intersection was still somewhat busy even at that late hour. A car was stopped in the next lane, and two vehicles were waiting across Arlington for the light to change.
As the patrol car came to a stop, a dark pickup with a rack pulled through the light and headed across the intersection. Before the officers could react, the pickup came even, and shots began hitting the patrol car with no warning or indication of where they originated. Both officers were hit numerous times by semi-automatic weapon fire. Thirteen shots were fired, 11 hitting the patrol car.
Crain slumped forward, and Tachias found himself unable to control the car, which began creeping across the intersection even as the BOLO on Dorner was being broadcast. In some of the most striking acts of heroism that traumatic night, witness Jack Chilson followed the gray pickup to try to help officers locate it. He followed it a few miles to Central Avenue, and then lost it on the dark streets.
The driver across the intersection was cabbie Karam Kaoud, who jumped out of his car and helped stop the creeping patrol car. Unable to lift his arms, Tachias asked Kaoud to hold the radio microphone for him and key the broadcast button. His voice was soon heard calling out “officer down,” interrupting the BOLO that was being given out for Dorner’s truck.
Violence and tragedy had struck with such speed and seeming randomness, Riverside officers were left with a crime that appeared like a lightning bolt. The ferocity of the attack left the Riverside force and others from Corona, Irvine, and LAPD who soon joined them, on high alert. Rumors swirled that Dorner may be on his way back to shoot those who were responding to the shooting. Officers and deputies from throughout the area converged to set up a defensive perimeter.
Crain died at the scene from his gunshot wounds. Tachias still faces a long recovery. The RPD was in mourning and on edge. When the investigators from Irvine arrived, Diaz said they were welcomed with relief. A new command center was established in Riverside and police were put on high alert throughout Southern California.
The sudden and intense violence suffered by the LAPD officers in Corona and the Riverside officers pushed the manhunt to the top of the news. It seemed that Dorner could strike anywhere, and gave officers no warning when he attacked. This was no longer just an Irvine double homicide and threats to LAPD officials. It was now clear that any police officer could be at risk simply driving on patrol.
From southern Orange County to far northern Los Angeles County, police departments began reassessing how they should handle the dozens of locations where LAPD officers were stationed to protect those who had been threatened in Dorner’s online rant. What earlier had seemed an LAPD problem now appeared much more ominous in the wake of the sudden and indiscriminate attack on Crain and Tachias.
Tension turns to mistakes
Reports to police were creating a rumor mill of sightings of the gray pickup at locations hundreds of miles apart – but still accessible from the Riverside attack via the network of Los Angeles freeways.
In the beach suburb of Torrance, just south of the Los Angeles International Airport, officers on the graveyard shift were aware of the potential for violence. They had been notified that one of the Board of Rights panel members who had determined that Dorner had lied lived near downtown. Torrance Chief John Neu dispatched his own officers to protect the home as soon as he was notified. But the LAPD had sent officers to relieve them and provide a protection detail; Torrance officers returned to their regular patrols during the day.
Following the Riverside attack, possible Dorner sightings had ratcheted up the tension for both the LAPD detail and the Torrance patrol officers. A motorist called in to report that she had seen a gray truck with a similar license plate driving south from the airport on Sepulveda Boulevard – the main artery through downtown Torrance.
After watching news reports about the Riverside attack at the beginning of their shift, Torrance officers on the graveyard shift decided to assist with surveillance around the LAPD protection detail on Redbeam Avenue. They quietly parked at the end of the next street to the north of the home, and set up a checkpoint.
A little later, Torrance officers driving another patrol car had a similar idea. They set up surveillance in a parking lot along Beryl Avenue, one of the entry points into the neighborhood where they could see vehicles approaching the area from Sepulveda Boulevard.
Neither patrol pair checked with the LAPD officers and neither called in to report their impromptu surveillance detail. In fact, neither communicated with the other and both were unaware of the other’s presence.
Meanwhile, the LAPD officers on the protection detail were hearing the same reports. They maintained a high level of alert, intensely aware that two sets of police officers had been attacked without warning that night.
At about 4:30 a.m. that morning, it appeared that their fears might be realized. Down the block from the home they were protecting, the LAPD officers saw a dark pickup truck turn the corner with its lights off. The pickup moved slowly from one side of the street to the other, as if seeking a particular address.
As the pickup neared, an officer believed they were under attack by Dorner, and the officers opened fire on the pickup. As many as 100 shots were fired, riddling the vehicle. Officers soon discovered that they had made what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would later call a tragic mistake: The pickup was driven by two women who were delivering Los Angeles Times newspapers along a route they followed every day.
Miraculously, although the windows and doors of the pickup had numerous bullet holes, the two women survived the shooting onslaught. Seventy-one-year-old Emma Hernandez received bullet wounds to her back, but did not suffer life-threatening injury. Her 42-year-old daughter, Margie Carranza was cut by flying glass in her face, but also avoided serious injury.
The LAPD swarmed the site with investigators. The eight officers involved in the shooting were placed on desk duty, and the two women received an apology and a new pickup from the LAPD. Eventually, the LA City Attorney’s Office settled with the women for $4.2 million, ending the fallout from the attack.
After a yearlong review, the LA Police Commission and Chief Charlie Beck determined that the officers involved had violated the department’s policy on deadly force. They will be assigned to retraining, Beck said.
Even as the LAPD officers were discovering that they had mistaken two female newspaper carriers for Dorner, the nearby Torrance officers were dealing with their own involvement in the morning’s events.
Not long before the newspaper carriers’ truck turned onto the street where the LAPD protective detail waited, the first Torrance officers who had set up their supporting surveillance had their own encounter with a dark pickup. They recognized it was a Honda rather than a Nissan, and waved the driver over. David Purdue was on an early-morning mission to pick up a friend and go surfing. The officers told him he could not enter the neighborhood and sent him back the other way.
As Purdue was driving away, a fusillade of shots was heard from the street where the LAPD protective detail was stationed. The officers ran to their car and opened the trunk to access their rifles. They jumped on the radio and called out “shots fired, shots fired!”
Stationed just a block away but still not in contact with their fellow Torrance officers, the second Torrance patrol unit roared onto the street to provide backup. As they turned the corner, they saw Purdue driving away and the other patrol unit with doors open and no officers in sight. The officer driving reacted instantly – ramming the pickup truck with enough force to break its rear axle free. Unable to get out of his own car and still hearing shots, one of the officers fired into the cab of Purdue’s pickup, smashing the windshield.
Horrified to discover that the pickup driver was not Dorner, the officers pulled Purdue from the truck and moved him to a position of safety, Neu said. He was offered a ride to the emergency room in an ambulance, but refused, Neu said. Purdue’s recollection differs- in a federal civil rights suit filed over the summer, he said he had been forced to lay on the ground as a suspect for more than an hour, and is suffering physically and emotionally from the incident.
The Los Angeles District Attorney eventually ruled that the Torrance officers were justified in their actions based on the circumstances.
The two shootings of innocent drivers by police threatened to jump to the top of the news, creating confusion and suspicion in the minds of many people watching the early morning news reports that Thursday. The critics quickly took to the Internet in the wake of the Torrance incidents, accusing the LAPD of unjustly firing Dorner and of being more concerned with protecting their own than with keeping the public safe.
The media furor threatened to overshadow the fact that a Riverside police officer had been killed and his partner seriously wounded while sitting unaware at a traffic light. Police from Riverside to Torrance to Irvine were frustrated and saddened that anyone would take up the cause of a ruthless killer willing to shoot any officer on sight.
Torrance Chief Neu believed the shootings were a crisis that needed to be resolved immediately. He went door-to-door in the neighborhood to explain to homeowners how the mistake had occurred and to assure them that all damage would be repaired. Adjusters from the LAPD followed in his wake to take care of claims.
The search moves to Big Bear
As the media focused on the mistaken identity shootings in Torrance and began looking into Dorner’s background, the focus of the manhunt was about to move 100 miles away and nearly 7,000 feet higher in the towering San Bernardino Mountains.
Like all other Southern California law enforcement, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department had been on high alert since the reports came in about the shooting of Riverside officers Michael Crain and Andrew Tachias. The department had sent deputies to Riverside to help support the police in controlling the situation and provided a protective detail as reports swirled about the possibility of Dorner returning to the scene for more shooting.
Many of the freeways and surface streets leading away from the Riverside shooting scene ran directly into San Bernardino County, which is just to the north. The main route from Riverside to Las Vegas (where officers had already been searching Dorner’s home) ran for hundreds of miles through San Bernardino County. The department knew there was a good chance that Dorner had passed through the county after the shooting, Sheriff John McMahon said.
As the search around Southern California intensified, a report came in about 8:30 a.m. Feb. 7 to the sheriff’s substation at Big Bear Lake, high in the San Bernardino Mountains: A maintenance crew had discovered a burning vehicle along one of the unpaved roads that ran behind the area’s ski resorts. The vehicle appeared to be a pickup.
Captain Tom Bradford, the commanding officer at the Big Bear substation, drove to the scene immediately and found evidence that made him call in the department’s SWAT teams. Scattered near the pickup, which was still smoldering, were numerous shells for a high-powered weapon. Bradford said he was immediately convinced this was Dorner’s truck.
The location of the smoldering truck was a problem. It was high on a ridge that allowed quick access to the ski resorts, where operations were in full swing. Although it had not snowed recently, the resorts make their own snow all winter and had a special event planned for that Thursday: police and firefighter appreciation day. Thousands of officers from throughout Southern California were already headed to the slopes for the day.
On the other side of the ridge, the slope led away from the Big Bear area down to lower cabins along State Route 38, a popular area that was miles away from the ski resorts by road, but a straight hike down from the ridge. Even before the truck was positively identified as Dorner’s, Bradford had search teams out in both directions.
The SWAT team members were taking no chances. They felt the location was too exposed, and had the truck towed to a safer site before digging into it for evidence. What they found made it clear – the “hidden VIN” showed the vehicle was definitely Dorner’s. By mid-morning on Feb. 7, the manhunt had moved to a new location, and both the media and the agencies trying to stop him were headed from sunny beach communities to winter weather as cold and unforgiving as North Dakota’s.
Knowing that Dorner could be anywhere, Bradford said the most pressing need was to bring the “police and firefighter appreciation day” at the ski resort to an early close. The skiers’ vehicles were checked – along with every other one leaving the mountains that day – to ensure that Dorner was not making an escape. The three main routes out of the resort were even closed for a time, but the roadblocks were deemed impractical with tens of thousands of people coming and going to the resorts.
Just two hours from the beach, the San Bernardino Mountains are topped with hundreds of square miles of national forest land. The San Bernardino National Forest is the most populated in the nation, home to thousands of dwellings, from small-unheated cabins to luxury resort condominiums. The buildings crowd into the forest, some as dense as a good-sized town, others scattered miles into the trees.
McMahon, Bradford and the sheriff’s department knew the only way to ensure that Dorner was not hiding in one of those cabins was to check them all. As the day progressed, they mounted a search operation that involved hundreds of county personnel, including probation officers and others as support. The searchers, sent out in teams, faced a daunting task. Most of the cabins were unoccupied in winter, and many were in areas that had no radio or cell phone reception. Before they checked the doors and windows of each dwelling, deputies had to find a spot nearby with reception, and sometimes used a team of searchers to pass along the word if the cabin was safe or not.
“We had to have someone in a spot where they could get the word out in a hurry. We knew that it was likely if we opened the door and he was there, we might not survive it.” – San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy
Every cabin and condominium was checked, Bradford said. If the doors were locked and there was no sign of forced entry, the search teams moved on. “We weren’t going to break down every door.”
As the teams fanned out across the mountains, the media descended on the resort. In an effort to maintain some control, McMahon used the Bear Mountain Golf Course clubhouse adjacent to the ski resort. A command post was established, and McMahon and other police officials held a series of press conferences in the parking lot.
The search continued into the night of Feb. 7 and the next morning, when the weather changed dramatically. A winter storm dropped several feet of snow along the mountain communities on Feb. 8, and the temperatures plummeted. Searchers were convinced that if Dorner had not found shelter, he would soon die of exposure. His body might not be found until the spring thaw.
Nevertheless, searchers carried on. Snow-cats were used to take searchers to remote cabins that had not been reached. Crews dressed in full winter gear traipsed through drifts to ensure there was no sign of habitation. Cabins and condominiums near the resorts were checked a second time.
Through the two days, there was only one reported sighting of Dorner. A resident said she was heading to the grocery store early Thursday morning, when she turned and saw a man matching Dorner’s description walking down her street. He noticed her, and turned and walked back into the forest. The resident was so frightened that she returned to her home and locked herself in. She did not report the sighting to deputies until they knocked on her door during the search hours later. By then, snow had covered whatever tracks might have shown where the man had gone into the forest.
The Trail goes Cold
Just three days after the discovery of Dorner’s online rant, and two days after his brutal attacks on officers in Corona and Riverside, the trail had gone cold in the snow-covered mountain communities. McMahon decided to relocate the command post to the Big Bear Lake Substation and gear down the operation, hoping that if the fugitive was still in the Big Bear area, he would try to make his escape and be caught.
What had begun as a double homicide in a quiet suburb had become a national manhunt. Reports came in of Dorner sightings from Mexico, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Utah. Police officers throughout Southern California were on high alert.
With multiple locations now involved in the search, it became clear that the command center in Irvine might not meet the needs of an ever-expanding incident. Investigators from a half-dozen police agencies needed a place to coordinate their efforts and deal with the growing deluge of clues and sightings coming in. Irvine, Corona, and Riverside had crimes to investigate, and the LAPD was under a state of siege. San Bernardino County appeared to be the last known whereabouts of the killer, but there was no clear evidence he was still there.
Assistant LAPD Chief Michel Moore had been closely involved with the case since it became clear that Dorner’s attacks were focused on the people he blamed for his firing. Moore had spent a considerable amount of time at the Irvine command center, and he had talked directly with Riverside Chief Diaz and San Bernardino County Sheriff McMahon. Although the LAPD was not investigating a homicide, it had the most at stake in terms of an ongoing potential death threats against at least 77 identified likely targets and their families. The department was faced with what could only be called a terrorist threat.
Moore convinced Irvine Chief Maggard to move to a larger, more centralized location. Moore proposed using the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Norwalk – southeast of Los Angeles. The other agencies agreed to the move, and the JRIC became a unique hybrid operations center with joint operations that were unprecedented.
The JRIC had been created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when it became clear that no single law enforcement agency could keep track of the potential threats throughout Southern California. Most agencies throughout the region maintained some level of involvement with the center, and it had brought some measure of coordination to intelligence gathering among hundreds of agencies that had a history of not communicating across county lines.
However, the JRIC had never been intended as a command center. To gear it up for the Dorner effort, the LAPD tasked Det. Dan Jenks with making it work. Jenks created a multi-tiered operation that essentially operated on three levels. The largest was a clearinghouse for collecting evidence and “clues,” which was staffed by LAPD officers who were familiar with large investigations. By the end of the manhunt, the JRIC crew had taken in and investigated 900 such clues. None led to Dorner.
Working alongside the clue clearinghouse were investigators from all of the agencies involved in the various crimes attributed to Dorner, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies that had been called in to assist. Investigators from all of the police agencies involved with the case said this interaction was invaluable. Faced with a rumor or sighting – or need to run down evidence of Dorner’s background – the various crews could walk across the room and discuss it with others who were intimately involved with the case. The overall effect was to dramatically reduce rumor mill problems, investigators said.
The final element of the center was a joint command staff tasked with determining how the agencies would work together to move the case forward. Official reports show this unprecedented joint staffing created some frustration among investigators, who reportedly felt they were spending an unnecessary amount of time briefing higher-ups. They also felt that the need to clear operations through the joint staff slowed response in some situations.
The JRIC brought efficiencies from many agencies together, Jenks said. One part of the team was the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Task Force, which had invaluable experience with wiretaps and surveillance efforts. At one point, the HIDTA team brought a judge to the JRIC to help quickly clear warrants to allow the establishment of numerous search efforts, he said. Federal and State officials also brought unique support to the effort. The Fish and Wildlife Service has tagged many of the large carnivores in the San Bernardino Mountains, and agreed to monitor tracking devices to see if the animals were congregating in one spot where a potential body might be discovered. The Department of Homeland Security agreed to allow the use of a C-123 aerial surveillance plane, which could focus infrared sensors on the snow-covered mountains to discover hikers by the heat signature.
However, by Sunday, February 10, all of this unprecedented effort had produced only frustration. Los Angeles officials announced a $1 million reward for anyone providing information leading to Dorner’s capture. The reward caused calls to the JRIC to spike, but did not lead to any new information on his location.
The command staff at the JRIC felt it was important to do another sweep of the Big Bear area, and began to put together a multiagency team to begin another search of cabins and condominiums. San Bernardino officials believed the previous searches had been as extensive as possible – but agreed to help guide the multiagency teams through the various neighborhoods and cabin clusters.
Although SBSD had formally moved the mountain command center, Bradford and many other San Bernardino County deputies were convinced that Dorner was still somewhere in the Big Bear area. They had maintained vehicle inspections on the roads leading out of the resort and were confident he had not been able to slip through. The SWAT team had been stationed at the Big Bear substation, ready to respond, if a sighting occurred.
The suspect resurfaces in Big Bear
James and Karen Reynolds had a unique vantage point to watch the beehive of activity at the command post in Moonridge. They owned and operated a 12-unit condominium project at 1250 Club View Drive, which was immediately across the street from the golf resort offices where the command post was located and where press conferences were held that attracted hundreds of police and media.
The Reynolds were getting ready for a busy weekend on February 6th. It was the middle of the ski season and a snowstorm was predicted, so all of their units would be filled except one. They were renovating Unit 203, which had been occupied for a lengthy stay by a relative. James, Karen, and their daughter Amy were in and out of the unit, along with contractors repainting and replacing carpet, so they generally left the unit unlocked for easy access.
They had planned to get one more day of work in the sidelined unit on Feb. 7 before all of their guests began checking in for the weekend, but they were distracted by the television coverage of the shootings in Riverside, Corona, and Torrance. When the news broke that the burning truck had been found above the ski resorts near their condominiums, the couple decided to stay inside to be safe. The condominiums were only about a mile downhill through the forest from where the truck was found, and their neighborhood was the closest developed area.
As their guests were getting settled in on Friday, James remembered the door to #203 had been left unlocked and went to check it. He found it already locked and assumed one of the contractors or his daughter had locked it the day before. He shoveled snow along the stairs after the storm later that day, and checked to make sure the door was still locked.
Although they saw deputies around the neighborhood, they were never contacted during the days after the discovery of the truck, the Reynolds said. They assumed it was because their complex was so close to the command post. They and their guests could watch the press gatherings and police maneuvers from their balconies. Sheriff John McMahon said later that deputies had knocked on the locked condominium doors, but received no answer and saw no signs of forced entry.
On Tuesday morning, Feb. 12, after a busy weekend and cleanup, the Reynolds went to #203 to pick up a mattress cover. Because of the condominium’s layout, the entry level included two bedrooms, with the living area, kitchen, and another bedroom upstairs. As they neared the upstairs bedroom, they were confronted by Dorner, who told them to “stay calm, and I won’t kill you.”
Karen bolted back downstairs, but was caught by Dorner and returned to the upper level. James, meanwhile, had managed to take his cell phone out of its case and hide it under the couch cushions. Dorner tied the couple’s hands with plastic ties, and then had them lie on the bed. The linens caused them trouble breathing, so he had them lie on the floor and secured their ankles. He placed hand towels in their mouths, and then tied pillowcases loosely over their heads.
“He kept telling us he wouldn’t hurt us, that he only wanted to clear his name. But when he put those pillowcases over us, it felt too much like a terrorist getting ready to shoot someone. I just wanted to tell him to stop talking and be done with it.”
– Karen Reynolds
Dorner took the keys to the couple’s maroon Nissan Rogue – a small SUV – and left. He returned immediately to ask how to start the car, and they mumbled that it was keyless and started with a push button. He left again.
Karen said they were fearful of his return, but also extremely worried that he might confront her daughter and their housekeeper, who were working in another part of the complex. The couple struggled, and James was able to remove the pillowcase over Karen’s head. She removed his as well, and then was able to use the bed to help her stand. She hopped to the kitchen area and found a knife, but dropped it when they heard a noise and were frightened it was Dorner returning.
Hopping into the living area, Karen tried to grab the house phone and dropped it. She saw that Dorner had left her cell phone on the coffee table, and sat down to try to call 911 behind her back. After a few seconds feeling around for the numbers, she successfully called 911 and got the phone on speaker. She got through to the dispatcher about 12:20 p.m. Feb. 12, and said Dorner may have been gone for a half hour.
Although it was difficult to hear the Reynolds clearly, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s dispatchers quickly sent deputies to look into the call. They also alerted units to be on the lookout for the maroon Nissan Rogue. After a week of frustrating inaction, the call soon had law enforcement responding in a wave from around Southern California.
Deputy Alex Collins had rushed back from paternity leave with his wife and newborn child after the truck was discovered on Feb. 7th. He joined fellow deputy Jeremy King, who cancelled a vacation, to drive up to the Big Bear Sheriff’s Station where they were assigned to begin nearly round-the-clock shifts looking for the fugitive. Collins, who has been assigned to Big Bear for five years, said it is common for criminals from other parts of Southern California to try to hide out in the mountain wilderness, so they were not surprised Dorner had headed to the snowy peaks after his night of ambushing police officers.
Collins and King were first assigned to place trail cameras in trees downslope from where the truck was discovered – a cold and scary duty that had one sweeping the silent forest with weapon drawn while the other worked to secure the cameras. The visuals showed little aside from the huge police presence in the area over the next few days.
Collins is the youngest of three brothers in the sheriff’s department, and all were intensely involved with the manhunt. Brother Ryan Collins ran the command post operations in Big Bear, and brother Matt is a SWAT team member who was stationed in Big Bear, ready to roll if the fugitive was found.
The four days since the truck was found had been spent running down false reports and rechecking old leads. On the morning of Feb. 12th, Collins and King had put on tactical vests and cold weather gear and hiked into the forest near where a resident had reported seeing Dorner the morning of Feb. 6th. They found a large vacant cabin and checked it carefully.
“It was another of those times we should have probably called in more guys first, but that was the way it was that week – you went with what you had.”
– Deputy Alex Collins.
Returning to the station, they were about to head to lunch when the call came in: Dorner had reportedly tied up some condominium owners and taken their car – a maroon Nissan Rogue SUV. Collins and King jumped into King’s car and headed out. After driving around local streets near the scene, they guessed that there was only one way Dorner would have gone to escape – down State Highway 38. King “floored it,” and they headed down the twisting road known as the “back way” to Big Bear that travelled through small forest communities like Barton Flats and Angelus Oaks and emptied into Mentone and Redlands.
The week of frustration and intense anxiety about catching the cop-killer had police from throughout the region quickly headed to the mountains. Redlands Police Department Sgt. Steve Crane, who was assigned to a task force working with San Bernardino Sheriff’s deputies on narcotics cases, said the word went out that all units on the detail should join the pursuit, despite the fact that most were lightly armed and had little cold-weather or tactical gear. Riverside Police Department detectives Jimmy Simmons and Mike Medici were in the mountains following up on the murder of Michael Crain. When the call came in, they jumped into Simmons’ 4×4 pickup and raced down Highway 38 to see if they could find the Nissan Rogue.
San Bernardino Deputy Paul Franklin was already working down in the Barton Flats area checking on cabins when the call went out about the carjacking of the Nissan Rogue. A “resident deputy” who lives in the mountains, Franklin immediately assumed that Highway 38 was a likely escape route. Working with Deputy Shane Hollands and two California Fish and Wildlife agents, Franklin parked along the highway at a wide turn where it was easy to spot oncoming traffic. He got out of his car to get a “spike strip” from his trunk, and saw a small, purple SUV-type vehicle traveling close behind a school bus. He jumped back in his unit and radioed in that he had seen a vehicle matching the suspect’s description. He caught and passed the school bus and raced down as far as Angelus Oaks without finding the suspect vehicle.
Franklin felt he had seen “cinder dust” kicked up at the turnoff for Glass Road, a few miles back. As he drove back that way, he received a cell phone call from the camp manager at Tahquitz Boy Scout Camp, who said he had just been carjacked on Glass Road and had heard gunshots from the direction the carjacker had fled. Franklin guessed the carjacker was Dorner and headed that way, radioing in that he was now looking for a white Dodge pickup truck.
The evidence that Dorner had driven down Glass Road grew stronger quickly when the deputies learned that a Fish and Wildlife unit had come under fire from a white pickup truck along the road. The agents were not injured and returned fire. Franklin waited for another unit for backup, and then drove slowly down the twisting Glass Road. They found the Nissan Rogue crashed into a snowbank and spotted a sniper rifle in the car. They stopped again to ensure that the Fish and Wildlife Officers were not injured. The road had been plowed for some distance, and snow was banked along both sides.
Other units now began to join Franklin and Hollands on Glass Road, including Detective Jeremiah McKay in an unmarked car, and Detective Jeremy King and Deputy Alex Collins. As they followed Franklin down the winding road, Collins said both of his brothers called on his cell phone urging him to use extreme caution.
As they came to the intersection of Glass Road and Seven Oaks Road, the units were passed by a van carrying Deputy Daniel Rosa and Detectives Larry Lopez and Chad Johnson of the sheriff’s SWAT team, known as the Specialized Enforcement Division. The SED deputies continued along the road to see if Dorner was trying to circle back to another highway.
The other deputies drove down Seven Oaks Road, looking for any sign of the carjacked white Dodge pickup. As they drove past a series of three cabins just off the road to the north, Franklin realized that there were tire tracks leading away from the road but he did not see the white truck. He was sure they were fresh, because he and Hollands had been in the area earlier and had not seen them.
Franklin, Hollands, King, Collins, Corporal Michael Siegfried and Detective Jeremiah MacKay pulled their vehicles to a stop about 20 yards down the road from the cabins, allowing them to be hidden behind large bushes. They climbed out and began putting on their protective vests. As they were preparing, Redlands Sgt. Steve Crane and his partner, Deputy Jeffrey McDaniel, rolled to a stop in McDaniel’s Dodge Durango, parking behind the other cars and directly in front of the main cabin.
The murder of Detective Jeremiah MacKay
With Collins leading the way, the deputies headed back to follow the tire tracks away from the road. Just as Collins walked past Crane, the officers heard what sounded like a cap gun or a hammer striking metal, and bullets began slamming into McDaniel’s Durango. Collins was hit and went down, and Crane said he felt bullets pinging off the vehicle as he and the others dove for cover. Franklin knew that there was no reception for the hand-held radios in the narrow mountain canyon, and quickly ran back to his vehicle to broadcast “shots fired” and then “officer down.”
The officers began returning fire, although they were still uncertain from where the incoming rounds were being fired. The rounds kept smacking into the Durango – shattering the windows and puncturing the tires. Collins managed to drag himself behind the vehicle and sat with his back to the tire. He knew he had been hit, and decided he had to call his wife to tell her he loved her. He reached inside his vest for his cell phone – and found it had been shattered.
“I got mad and threw the thing away, and decided I just wasn’t going to die up there.”
– Dep. Alex Collins, referring to his broken phone.
He later found that the phone had blocked a bullet that had struck him square in the chest and penetrated his vest – probably saving his life from the worst of the four rounds that hit him.
The officers who were pinned down behind the Durango tried to find ways to return fire, and MacKay raised up slightly over the hood of the vehicle to get a shot. Another burst of rounds hit the vehicle, and MacKay fell back with a wound to the neck. The bullets ricocheted off the pavement under the vehicle, and Crane said he and the others feared for their lives. The call went out that a second officer was down.
Seeing that Collins needed medical attention, deputies tried to drive the Durango away from the front of the cabin, while another dragged Collins behind it. But the vehicle moved too quickly, and Collins and MacKay were left completely exposed.
When they heard the “officer down” calls, SED team members Rosa, Lopez and Johnson rushed back up the road and parked near Franklin’s vehicle. Others also began to arrive; SED Sgt. John Charbonneau, Deputy Justin Musella, and Detective Kelly Craig pulled up on the opposite side of the cabin and were soon joined by Riverside Police officers Simmons and Medici. The SWAT team members began firing steadily into the cabin in an effort to drive the shooter back from the windows.
At Charbonneau’s request, Musella threw two smoke canisters in front of the cabin to provide cover so officers could rescue Collins and MacKay, who were still lying exposed in front of the cabin. Rosa threw another canister from the opposite side, and officers from both sides began firing constantly into the cabin. Fearing for his life and thinking of his wife and kids, Lopez ran in front of the cabin and began dragging MacKay toward safety. Deputy Hollands ran to help him, and they pulled MacKay out of the line of fire.
Rosa then ran in front of the cabin, firing his rifle as he went. He threw his weapon back to cover, and then dragged Collins to safety. The injured deputies were loaded into the back seat of Rosa’s truck, and Crane and McDaniel drove them down the hill. A rescue helicopter had already landed on the opposite side of the firefight at the cabin, so they had to wait while a new landing area was found. The deputies were airlifted to Loma Linda University Medical Center about 1:48 p.m.
Collins said he began to despair of surviving his injuries during the wait and the flight to Loma Linda, about 15 minutes away. The physician on board, who began medical treatment, urged him to hang on and buoyed his spirits.
MacKay was pronounced dead during the helicopter ride. The 14-year veteran left a wife and two young children.
The Law Enforcement Response
San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department SED Captain Greg Herbert arrived at the cabin scene just before the rescue operation, and he and his incident commander, Lt. John Ginter began to look for ways to pull out the deputies who were still pinned down behind vehicles. Although the department’s armored “Bearcat” vehicle was still in the shop for repairs after heavy use in the mountains, the San Bernardino Police Department armored vehicle was available and the request went out for the S.B.P.D. SWAT team. The two teams work well together and Herbert welcomed its availability and used it to move all of the initial deputies out of the line of fire. His team members covered the maneuver with hundreds of rounds fired toward the cabin. The Bearcat crew then returned and fired 16 “Ferret” gas rounds into the cabin.
The San Bernardino Police Department was the only agency requested by the Sheriff’s Department to assist, yet hundreds of units from numerous agencies started streaming up Highway 38 toward the shooting scene. San Bernardino Police Chief Robert Handy, who was at the scene and offered to help organize the response, said he believed cars were lined up along Highway 38 for more than a mile. Many of the officers were out of their cars with rifles pointed downhill toward the action on Glass Road, even though it was more than a mile away.
Worried that his own officers would speed en masse to join the chase from nearly 100 miles away, Irvine Chief Maggard broadcast an alert to all cars ordering them to stand down. Irvine leadership ordered the Irvine detectives on the mountain to stay behind and interview the condominium owner/hostages.
The traffic jam of police vehicles on Glass Road itself was so bad that the sheriff’s fortified “tactical tractor” needed to be unloaded from its flatbed carrier and driven slowly down the hill on its own power, Herbert said. At one point during the confrontation, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue helicopter flew into the canyon – bringing one of the LAPD’s SWAT teams to back up the action. Fearing that any more personnel could be caught in the crossfire, Herbert ordered the LAPD officers high up on the canyon wall to stay there and to not get involved.