Charred remains found in cabin where man who may be Christopher Dorner was holed up: sheriff

6:38 AM, Feb 13, 2013   |    comments
This undated photo released by the Los Angeles Police Department shows suspect Christopher Dorner, a former Los Angeles officer. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Police Department)
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BIG BEAR LAKE, CA (CBSNews.com) - The manhunt for a former Los Angeles police officer suspected of going on a killing spree converged may have ended Tuesday at a mountain cabin where authorities believe he barricaded himself inside, engaged in a shootout that killed a deputy, and then never emerged as the home went up in flames.

Investigators found charred human remains in the burned out cabin's debris, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office, which said forensic techniques would be used to try to identify the body.

CBS News correspondent John Miller says two law enforcement sources tell him authorities are confident the body is that of fugitive Christopher Dorner, 33. Their confidence was based on the facts that the man who stole a truck fit Dormer's description, that the same man was chased to the cabin, that he tossed a green smoke grenade at officers from inside the cabin and used a 50 caliber weapon to fire on them.

Based on the fact that the house was surrounded and no one was seen fleeing, Miller adds, authorities feel the body is indeed that of Dorner.

A single gunshot was heard from within the cabin before the fire erupted, authorities say.

If the results of the forensic tests are positive, the search for the most wanted man in America over the last week will have ended the way he had expected - in his death, with police pursuing him. He is believed to have killed at least four people, two of them law enforcement officers.

Thousands of officers had been hunting for the former Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing. They say he threatened to bring "warfare" to officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across the Southwest and Mexico.

"Enough is enough. It's time for you to turn yourself in. It's time to stop the bloodshed," LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said at a news conference held outside police headquarters in Los Angeles, a starkly different atmosphere than last week, when Dorner was on the loose and officials briefed the news media under heavy security in an underground hallway.

A short time after Smith spoke Tuesday, smoke began to rise from the cabin in the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Flames then engulfed the building; images of the fire were broadcast on live television around the world. TV helicopters showed the fire burning freely with no apparent effort to extinguish it.

San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said authorities didn't know how the fire started. She noted there was gunfire between the person in the cabin and officers around the home before the blaze began.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: CBS News' Carter Evans caught the gunfight on tape, up-close

There were conflicting reports about whether a body had been found inside shortly after the fire, with both the Los Angeles and San Bernardino authorities disputing the find in separate news conferences. But Miller's sources told him a body had been seen in the rubble.

Until Tuesday, authorities didn't know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pickup last week.

It's believed Dorner broke into a house near where his truck was found and tied two people up.

About mid-day Tuesday, wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted a purple Nissan car that had been reported stolen, department spokesman Lt. Patrick Foy said. The wardens recognized the driver as someone matching Dorner's description.

They pursued the driver and briefly lost him when he turned onto a side road. Three other wardens in two vehicles turned onto the road a short time later, and were searching for the car when they saw a white pickup truck driving toward them erratically and at a high rate of speed.

Wardens got a close look at the driver and realized it was Dorner, who rolled down his window and opened fire, Foy said.

The wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times, and one of the wardens was able to get out and fire at the driver, who escaped on foot after crashing his truck.

After holing up in the cabin, there was a second gun battle with San Bernardino County deputies, two of whom were shot. One died and the other was expected to live after undergoing surgery.

"We're heartbroken," Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte said of the deputy's death and the wounding of his colleague. "Words can't express how grateful we are for the sacrifice those men have made in defense of the community, and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families."

Earlier, a SWAT team surrounded the cabin and used an armored vehicle to break out the cabin windows, the official said. 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, like peeling back the layers of an onion, the official said.

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 an angry Facebook rant they said he posted. Threats against the LAPD led officials to assign officers to protect officers and their families.

Within hours of the release of photos of the 6-foot, 270-pounder described as armed and "extremely dangerous," police say, Dorner unsuccessfully tried to steal a boat in San Diego to flee to Mexico and opened fire on two patrol cars in Riverside County, shooting three officers and killing one.

Jumpy officers guarding one of the targets named in the rant shot and injured two women delivering newspapers Thursday in Torrance because they mistook their pickup truck for Dorner's.

Police found weapons and camping gear inside the charred truck in Big Bear. Helicopters using heat-seeking technology searched the forest from above while scores of officers, some using bloodhounds, scoured the ground and checked hundreds of vacation cabins, many of which are vacant this time of year, in the area.

A snowstorm hindered the search and may have helped cover his tracks, though authorities were hopeful he would leave fresh footprints if hiding in the wilderness.

Dorner's anger with the department dated back at least five years, when he was fired for filing a false report accusing his training officer of kicking a mentally ill suspect. Dorner, who is black, claimed in the rant that he was the subject of racism by the department and fired for doing the right thing.

He said he would get even with those who 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."

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

One of the targets listed in the manifesto was former LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, who represented Dorner before the disciplinary board. Dorner claimed he put the interests of the department above his.

The first victims were Quan's daughter, Monica Quan, 28, a college assistant basketball coach, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, 27. They were shot multiple times in their car in a parking garage near their Orange County condo.

Dorner served in the Navy, earning a rifle marksman ribbon and pistol expert medal. He was assigned to a naval undersea warfare unit and various aviation training units, according to military records. He took leave from the LAPD for a six-month deployment to Bahrain in 2006 and 2007.

He left the service on Feb. 1.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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