Crime & Justice

UPDATE: San Bernardino Sheriff ID's slain deputy, says Christopher Dorner manhunt is over (Photos, Map)

Slain Sheriff's Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, who was allegedly killed in a gunfight with suspected murderer Christopher Dorner. This poster was displayed at a San Bernardino Sheriff's Department press conference.
Slain Sheriff's Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, who was allegedly killed in a gunfight with suspected murderer Christopher Dorner. This poster was displayed at a San Bernardino Sheriff's Department press conference.
Rina Palta/KPCC

UPDATE 5:57 p.m. Rick Heltebrake was the man whose truck was allegedly hijacked by alleged murderer Christopher Dorner. He says that his contributions to catching Dorner mean he should collect the $1 million reward, and warned that authorities better not refuse to award it.

"If they start backpedaling on this reward, I've got a lot of phone numbers now. People've been calling me, everybody from Diane Sawyer to Anderson Cooper to John and Ken. And there will be a big political backlash, so they better come through with it," Heltebrake said.

He acknowledged that the maids who Dorner was fleeing when he hijacked Heltebrake's truck could also deserve some of the reward money.

"If I have to share it with those two ladies from Big Bear, that's fine," Heltebrake said. "They started the ball rolling, and I finished it. So you guys can all put that out there so the chief of police and the mayor hear it."

— Grant Slater & Mike Roe

UPDATE 4:34 p.m. San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon on Wednesday afternoon confirmed Jeremiah MacKay, 35, as the deputy allegedly killed by fugitive ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner on in a shootout on Tuesday.

McMahon, speaking at a press conference in Riverside, said that MacKay was a 15-year veteran of the department. MacKay was pronounced dead at 2:24 p.m. Tuesday.

McMahon also identified Alex Collins as the second deputy allegedly shot by Dorner. Collins went through two surgeries Wednesday, and, McMahon added, "He's in good spirits and should make a full recovery after a number of additional surgeries."

McMahon stopped short of confirming that Dorner was the body found in the ruins of a cabin that burned in the Big Bear area on Tuesday, but added: "We believe that this investigation is over at this point, and we'll just need to move on from here." 

When asked if the body removed from the cabin was Dorner, McMahon said: "I cannot absolutely positively confirm it's him," but that indications, including interactions with him while he was in the empty cabin, indicate it was Dorner.

There were questions about how Dorner was able to evade a massive manhunt for days and whether the condo he was spotted in — which stood near the command center were law enforcement officials were headquartered until recently — had been searched. On this topic, McMahon deferred questions to Sheriff's Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky, who headed up the Big Bear search.

"If there were no signs of break-in or no open doors, we then noted it and moved on to the next cabin," Deputy Chief Steve Kovensky said, describing their search.

“As the investigation moves forward, we’ll have more information regarding those things."

The news conference was abruptly terminated when reporters continued to pepper the department with questions about when, whether and how the department conducted its search of the nearby property.

Before that, McMahon praised the sheriff's deputies' courage, particularly when engaging with Dorner.

"It was absolutely incredible. It was like a war zone. And our deputies continued to go in," McMahon said. He called the deputies "true heroes."

McMahon expressed his condolences for the slain officer and his family. "This is truly another sad day for law enforcement," McMahon said. "It's just a terrible deal for all of us."

MacKay leaves behind a wife and two children, a 7-year-old stepdaughter and a 4-month-old son, according to McMahon.

When asked about whether the cabin was intentionally burned down, McMahon said, "It was not on purpose. We did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out."

He said that deputies first tried to get Dorner out with their presence when they arrived, then used a cold tear gas, before finally using a pyrotechnic tear gas.

"It does generate a lot of heat," McMahon said. After throwing those into the cabin, a fire erupted, according to McMahon.

There has been speculation about whether the cabin fire was set intentionally. Audio purported to be scanner traffic was recorded and put online with what sounds like authorities talking about throwing "burners." It's unknown whether that recording is legitimate, but it led reporters to raise the question.

"The pyrotechnic-type canisters are commonly referred to as 'burners,'" McMahon said. 

— Mike Roe with Rina Palta

UPDATED 4:02 p.m. Slain Sheriff's deputy identified

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department this afternoon is expected to identify the deputy who died in Tuesday's gun battle near Big Bear with suspected murderer and ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, but Mark Ramsperger — a friend of the victim — confirmed to KPCC that the deputy was  Jeremiah MacKay, 35, of Redlands.

At the time of his death, MacKay was a lead detective in the sheriff's Yucaipa station.

MacKay graduated Rim of the World High School in the Lake Arrowhead area in 1995 and went directly into the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. MacKay has held many different jobs within the Sheriff’s Office, including serving as a patrol deputy at the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station in the San Bernardino Mountains, leading training in weapons usage and safety.

He married two years ago. He leaves a wife, Lynette, a stepdaughter and an infant son.

Ramsperger stayed in touch MacKay after high school. MacKay was in charge of the Inland Empire Emerald Society, which would stage pub crawls to raise money for the families of fallen officers.

He was also a talented bagpipe player who would perform at other officers’ funerals, said Ramsperger — now others will do the same for him.

—Sharon McNary

(Story continues below map.)

Below is a map of the area where a man believed to be Christopher Dorner was spotted. It shows where Dorner's Nissan truck was located on Feb. 7. It also marks where the suspect reportedly fled from a condo on Club View Drive, was chased by authorities south, where he crashed his vehicle at Highway 38 and Glass Road, then fled on foot northward to a cabin in the Angelus Oaks area, which burned down.

View Christopher Dorner Manhunt and Gun Battles in the Big Bear area. in a larger map 

Forensics expert says it could take weeks to identify charred remains

Forensic experts said it could take weeks to identify the charred human remains found in the burned cabin that allegedly belong to suspect murderer and ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t released any details about the conditions of the remains, but Joan Bytheway, director of the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility, said medical examiners would probably ID the remains through dental records or DNA. Teeth can survive hot temperatures and are effective at identifying a body, she added.

In one scenario, the medical examiner’s office could look through Christopher Dorner’s dental records and see if they match teeth found at the crime scene. They will look to see if crowns or other dental work match, she added. She said that it’s possible the remains could also be identified through DNA, but that would take longer.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to KPCC’s questions, but said in an email that more information will be released after the remains are identified.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in a press conference on Tuesday night that it does not keep dental records when employees start working there.

Dorner had been a U.S. Navy reservist. A U.S. Navy spokesman declined to state whether the Navy has Dorner’s dental records and said that if it did have those records, the LAPD has not requested them yet.

— Wendy Lee

UPDATE 1:33 p.m. Fallsvale elementary locked down for 4 hours during Dorner standoff

Things are getting back to normal Wednesday at Fallsvale Elementary School in the San Bernardino County town of Forest Falls.

Authorities locked down that and six other Bear Valley Unified schools Tuesday while police searched around Big Bear for Christopher Dorner.

Most of the lockdowns were lifted within an hour. At Fallsvale, the lockdown continued for more than four hours before it ended at 6 p.m. Tuesday night.

Bear Valley Unified spokeswoman Shelley Black said staff updated parents with phone calls and emails.

“A family had brought in dinner from the local Mexican restaurant,“ Black said, ”and there was another group of people that cooked and brought in pizzas for the staff and the students while they were there. They had movies playing for the students and the entire atmosphere was extremely calm.”

The K–6 school enrolls about 53 students.

Counselors and comfort dogs will be on hand Thursday for students and staff. A group called Inland Empire Pet Partners trained the animals to support people who have experienced crises.

— Ashley Bailey

UPDATE 10:24 a.m.: The Los Angeles Police Department announced Wednesday morning that it was returning to normal operations and had lifted the tactical alert that had been in place frequently during the manhunt for fugitive murder suspect Christopher Dorner.

It’s another indication that authorities strongly believe – but cannot definitely confirm – that Dorner died Tuesday in a fire in a cabin near Big Bear.
The LAPD announced it was reducing the number of protective details – from about 40 to a dozen. The details had been providing round-the-clock security for the targets identified on Christopher Dorner’s manifesto, and their families.
The LAPD says it is waiting to positively identify the charred remains found early this morning as Dorner, a process could take weeks.
Lt. Andy Neiman said he wouldn’t speculate as to whether the remains were Dorner’s.

PREVIOUSLY: Police believe the search for ex-LAPD murder suspect Christopher Dorner ended abruptly Tuesday when a man believed to be the fugitive bolted from hiding, stole two cars, barricaded himself in a vacant cabin and mounted a last stand in a furious shootout in which he killed one sheriff's deputy and wounded another before the building erupted in flames.

He never emerged from the ruins and hours later a charred body was found inside.

"We have reason to believe that it is him," San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.

The Associated Press reports that a California driver's license with the name Christopher Dorner, and other personal items, have been found in the basement of the burned cabin next to the charred body.

RELATED: The search for Christopher Dorner: A timeline.

As police scoured mountain peaks for days, using everything from bloodhounds to high-tech helicopters, the revenge-seeking ex-cop they wanted apparently was hiding among them. The revenge-seeking ex-cop surfaced Tuesday at a vacation condo across the street from a building that law enforcement officials had been using as a command post.

Police are still trying to determine if Dorner had taken refuge there since his burned out pickup truck was found on the mountain last Thursday, four days after beginning a deadly rampage that would claim four lives, including that of a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy and a Riverside police officer. The funeral for Riverside Officer Michael Crain is set for Wednesday morning.

Dorner, 33, had said in a lengthy rant police believe he posted on Facebook that he expected to die in one final, violent confrontation with police, and if it was him in the cabin that's just what happened.

The apparent end came very close to where his trail went cold six days earlier when his burning pickup truck — with guns and camping gear inside — was abandoned on a fire road in the San Bernardino National Forest near the ski resort town of Big Bear Lake.

His footprints led away from the truck and vanished on frozen soil.

RELATED: LAPD manhunt: The search for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner

With no sign of him and few leads, police offered a $1 million reward to bring him to justice and end a "reign of terror" that had more than 50 families of targeted Los Angeles police officers under round-the-clock protection after he threatened to bring "warfare" to the LAPD, officers and their kin.

Just a few hours after police announced Tuesday that they had fielded more than 1,000 tips with no sign of Dorner, word came that a man matching his description had tied up two people in a Big Bear Lake cabin, stole their car and fled. Authorities didn't immediately give more details on the two people.

Game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who were part of the search detail spotted the purple Nissan that had been reported stolen going in the opposite direction and gave chase, department spokesman Lt. Patrick Foy said. The driver looked like Dorner.

They lost the purple car after it passed a school bus and turned onto a side road, but two other Fish and Wildlife patrols turned up that road a short time later, and were searching for the car when a white pickup truck sped erratically toward the wardens.

"He took a close look at the driver and realized it was the suspect," Foy said.

Dorner, who allegedly stole the pickup truck at gunpoint after crashing the first car, rolled down a window and opened fire on the wardens, striking a warden's truck more than a dozen times.

One of the wardens shot at the suspect as he rounded a curve in the road. It's unclear if he hit him, but the stolen pickup careened off the road and crashed in a snow bank. Dorner then ran on foot to the cabin where he barricaded himself and got into a shootout with San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies and other officers who arrived.

Two deputies were shot, one fatally. His identity has not been made public.

A SWAT team surrounded the cabin and used an armored vehicle to break out the cabin windows, said a law enforcement official who requested anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The officers then pumped a gas into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: "Surrender or come out."

The armored vehicle then tore down each of the cabin's four walls.

A single shot was heard inside before the cabin was engulfed in flames, the law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

Until Tuesday, authorities weren't sure Dorner was still in Big Bear Lake, where his pickup truck was found within walking distance from the cabin where he hid.

Even door-to-door searches failed to turn up any trace of him in the quiet, bucolic neighborhood where children were playing in the snow Tuesday night.

With many searchers leaving town amid speculation he was long gone, the command center across the street was taken down Monday.

Ron Erickson, whose house is only about a quarter mile away, said officers interrogated him to make sure he wasn't being held hostage. Erickson himself had been keeping a nervous watch on his neighborhood, but he never saw the hulking Dorner.

"I looked at all the cabins that backed the national forest and I just didn't think to look at the one across from the command post," he said. "It didn't cross my mind. It just didn't."

Police say Dorner began his run on Feb. 6 after they connected the slayings of a former police captain's daughter and her fiance with his angry manifesto.

Dorner blamed LAPD Capt. Randal Quan for providing poor representation before the police disciplinary board that fired him for filing a false report.

Dorner, who is black, claimed in his online rant that he was the subject of racism by the department and was targeted for doing the right thing.

Chief Charlie Beck, who initially dismissed Dorner's allegations, said he would reopen the investigation into his firing — not to appease the ex-officer, but to restore confidence in the black community, which had a long fractured relationship with police that has improved in recent years.

Dorner vowed to get even with those who had wronged him as part of his plan to reclaim his good name.

"You're going to see what a whistleblower can do when you take everything from him especially his NAME!!!" the rant said. "You have awoken a sleeping giant."

Within hours of being named as a suspect in the killings, the 6-foot, 270-pounder described as armed and "extremely dangerous," tried unsuccessfully to steal a boat in San Diego to flee to Mexico. After leaving a trail of evidence, he headed north where he opened fire on two patrol cars in Riverside County, shooting three officers and killing one.

With a description of his car broadcast all over the Southwest and Mexico, he managed to get to the mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles where his burning truck was found with a broken axle.

Only a short distance from the truck, he apparently spent his final days with a front-row seat to the search mobilized right outside.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Jeremiah MacKay had an infant daughter rather than son.