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LAPD: No celebration after fiery end to standoff

4:39 PM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
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by William M. Welch, Donna Leinwand Leger and John Bacon, USA TODAY

The fiery conclusion to a violent standoff in California's San Bernardino Mountains that may have ended the life of a fugitive cop killer was no cause for celebration to police officers working the case, Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said Wednesday.

"It was horrifying to listen to that firefight, to hear those words 'officer down,'" Neiman said.

Two San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies were shot, one fatally, before fire engulfed the cabin where Christopher Dorner apparently made his last stand. The sheriff's office said charred human remains were found in the rubble.

"We have reason to believe that it is (Dorner)," sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.

A wallet with a California driver's license bearing the name Christopher Dorner also was found, the Associated Press reported, citing a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation but declined to be named because of the ongoing probe.

Bachman said forensic tests would be carried out to confirm the identification.

"Our deepest sympathy to the families" of the deputies who were shot, Neiman said.

The deputy's death in Tuesday's shootout was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his Facebook manifesto linked to a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the police department in 2009.

Neiman said that investigations will continue at least until Dorner's body is positively identified. LAPD, which had been on high alert since Dorner began his rampage, has returned to normal operations, Neiman said.

Still, police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others Dorner threatened in his rambling manifesto, Neiman said.

"The task force is still in place and they will work until there's nothing left to be done," he said. "We don't just stop a murder case simply because we think that the suspect in that case" is dead.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said it was "highly likely" that Dorner had been inside when authorities heard a single gunshot and saw the cabin burning in Seven Oaks, a small mountain community about 90 miles east of Los Angeles.

SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside of the cabin as part of a "tactical operation" and were tearing down its walls to flush out Dorner, who had reportedly been driven back inside by police when he tried to flee out the back.

Police have not explained what started the fire in the cabin. Officers had thrown tear gas canisters into the cabin and shouted to Dorner to surrender. Gil Torrez, a retired FBI hostage negotiator, says it's unlikely that police would have deliberately burned down the house. But a canister of tear gas or another agent could have ignited something else, he said.

Police said Dorner, 33, had been holed up since last Thursday in a different cabin -- 20 to 30 yards from the site where news media gathered and received sheriff's briefings daily on the massive manhunt after Dorner's burned truck was found earlier that day.

Dorner was discovered Tuesday by two cleaning women who entered the cabin. Lt. Patrick Foy, with the California Fish and Wildlife Department, said Dorner tied them up with plastic zip ties and left in their car, wrecked it, then stole a truck from a male driver.

A man identified as Rick Heltebrake, who works at a Boy Scout camp in the Big Bear area, told KTLA-TV News that Dorner stole his truck at gunpoint.

"He said, 'I don't want to hurt you. Just get out of the truck and start walking up the road.'" Heltebrake asked if he could get his dog out of the back. Dorner said okay, but don't take time to get a leash.

After exchanging gunfire with officers, Dorner ran into the woods and broke into the cabin. As SWAT closed in, a single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames. As the fire grew, more gunshots were heard - apparently ammunition ignited by the fire, authorities said.

Authorities let the cabin burn.

"We won't allow them (firefighters) to get close to the cabin,'' said sheriff's spokeswoman Bachman. "It's just not safe.''

Dorner previously was charged with killing Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain and was the prime suspect in the murders of Monica Quan and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, on Jan. 29. She was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain whom Dorner blamed for his firing after reporting alleged abuse by another officer. Randall Quan represented Dorner during his termination hearing.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had called Dorner "a domestic terrorist," and a $1 million reward, raised from public and private sources, was offered. Police received more than 1,000 tips.

Neiman said it was not clear who, if anyone, might claim the reward if the body in the cabin turns out to be that of Dorner.

Contributing: Michael Winter

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