There’s no clear place to pull off on this narrow part of forest road. But drivers make way for the occasional double-parked car and the person holding a camera to take a picture of the plot of burned rubble.
“Wow, this is sad right here,” said David Gonzales.
He, like many other Big Bear mountain vacationers, say “we just had to stop by” to see the place for themselves, the place where ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner met his demise.
“Can you imagine all the shooting and everything that happened that day,” Gonzales said as he clung onto the metal fence protecting the site.
The cabin where Dorner died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound — as it burned down from a fire ignited by tear gas canisters — has become something of a tourist attraction.
On Facebook, visitors post pictures of what’s left of the cabin.
“I couldn’t help myself on my drive home from Big Bear,” said one Facebook user. “Puts a whole different perspective on the last desperation moves of a sick killer.”
Many of these visitors stop at the town’s only commercial storefront, the Oaks Restaurant on State Highway 38. Cathy Bernes and her husband own the place. She keeps a stack of copies of a hand-drawn map of the Angelus Oaks area for when people ask for directions to the cabin.
“That first weekend it happened, there were at least a good 100 people, maybe even 200,” Bernes said.
A California Highway Patrol officer guarded the cabin for a few days after the dramatic shootout. Berens said she hasn’t driven the few miles up the road to see it. She thinks it's kind of a morose museum. But one restaurant patron made an impression on her when he asked if she’d gone down to see the cabin.
"I told him, ‘Oh no, I don’t quite go in for that,’” Berens recalled. “And he said: ‘Well, I’m going down to give my respects for the sheriff [deputy] who died.’ That gave me a whole new perspective.”
Tied to the metal fence enveloping the cabin grounds is a red ribbon bow and a cross made with twigs and shoelaces. An American flag flutters half-staff on a bare blackened pine tree trunk.
Suzie Sanchez nudged her fiancé Gonzales and asked who he thought the flag was there for.
“I don’t think it’s for the police officers,” she said.
“I don’t know,” Gonzales said. “I think it could go either way.”
Gonzales and Sanchez both think Dorner was telling the truth about being bullied in the police academy, the racist remarks he wrote about in his manifesto and the accusations of internal police lying and corruption.
As Gonzales surveyed the charred pieces of iron furniture, he searched for a souvenir and took a numinous guess at what Dorner might have felt.
“I just believe that what he did, he stood for righteous in his heart,” he said. “It was wrong for what happened, but two wrongs don’t make a right, but still he went all the way with it.”
What happens next to the cabin is anyone’s guess.
The family-owned Seven Oaks Mountain cabins, which include five smaller cottages, has been up for sale for about two years. A voice message on the cabin reservation line indicates they are not open for business.
The cabins sit on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The arrangement dates back to the 1920s when the federal government tried to lure more tourists to the San Bernardino National Forest. Special use permits were handed out to people who wanted to build and rent out cabins.
If the owners wanted to rebuild, they would have to work with the Forest Service to meet special historic and environmental standards. So far, no applications have been filed.
Also, no claim for damages has been filed with the county of San Bernardino. But recouping damages could also be taken care of through personal property insurance.
Many cabin owners, like Angelus Oaks real estate agent Ron Ritter, would like to at least see the metal fence come down. He calls it foreign for such a bucolic, natural environment.
It’s also a reminder of why more people from out of town, more law enforcement and more media visit Angelus Oaks. The enclave of about 350 residents does not want to be known as the place where Dorner died.
“They will mention the name,” Ritter said. “But it never goes past that. They don’t want to talk about it.”