By Donna Leinwand Leger, Chris Woodyard and Michael Winter
BIG BEAR LAKE, CA - The burned remains found in the ashes of a Southern California mountain cabin have been positively identified as fugitive former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said Thursday.
Dorner's dental records were used to make the identification, said spokeswoman Jodi Miller.
She did not provide a cause of death.
Authorities and reporters heard a single gunshot late Tuesday afternoon as the 1920s-era cabin in nearby Seven Oaks burned after SWAT officers fired pyrotechnic tear-gas "burners" inside and tore down its walls. Sheriff John McMahon said Wednesday that his deputies "did not intentionally burn down that cabin to get Mr. Dorner out."
Law enforcement officials had cornered the 33-year-old Dorner in the cabin, where he retreated after stealing two vehicles and trading gunfire with state game wardens. He then killed one deputy and wounded another in a firefight that McMahon described as being "like a war zone."
Despite the lack of confirmation about the body, authorities expressed confidence Tuesday night and Wednesday that the remains were Dorner's.
"We believe the investigation is over at this point." McMahon said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The cabin's owners, Jim and Karen Reynolds, said they, not two housekeepers as widely reported, had discovered Dorner when they visited their unoccupied apartment unit Tuesday morning.
"We happened to walk in on him,'' Karen Reynolds said Wednesday night. "He tried to calm us down, saying very frequently he would not kill us.''
The couple said Dorner tied them up, put washcloths in their mouths, used a cord to tie pillowcases over their heads and told them to keep quiet while he fled in their car. They said after he had been gone about a minute, they broke free and were able to contact authorities.
"You could tell he was professionally trained," Karen Reynolds said of Dorner, a Navy veteran who was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2009 after he was found to have falsely accused his training officer of police brutality.
In an online manifesto he had vowed revenge on LAPD and dozens of others. By the time he died, Dorner was accused of murdering two law enforcement officials and wounding four others. He was also suspected of having murdered the daughter of a former LAPD captain involved in Dorner's dismissal and her fiancé.
Who gets credit for finding Dorner is crucial for Los Angeles officials handling the $1 million reward offered from public and private sources.
Thursday night, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck addressed that issue.
"More than 20 jurisdictions and entities are involved in this reward, so all of them will be coming together to collectively determine whether any individual or individuals qualify for it," they said in a statement. "Our personal hope is that the reward will be distributed, but we must follow the rules and respect the procedures of each entity."
Rick Heltebrake, the Boy Scout camp manager whose truck Dorner commandeered Tuesday after abandoning the Reynolds' car, said Wednesday that he was exhausted from taking calls from news media and well-wishers all night.
"We just want to go on from here," Heltebrake said, as he came by a police checkpoint in Angelus Oaks.
He described his encounter with the fugitive - which he said lasted about 10 seconds - as if it were a business transaction. A terrifying moment? "I didn't feel like it was. He said he didn't want to hurt me, and I believed him," he said.
"There was no panic," Heltebrake said. "I got a little freaked (later) when I heard the gunfire."
He said Dorner was dressed in military-style camouflage and was toting only one weapon, a military-style rifle. He said he didn't get a good look at the weapon because it was pointed right at him.
Heltebrake added that Dorner did not look disheveled, unshaven or like a man who might have been holed up under difficult conditions for a week.
He is grateful, in fact, that Dorner let him take his beloved 3-year-old Dalmatian, Suni, when he bailed from his truck.
"That was a little bit of compassion," he said.
After abandoning the truck, police say Dorner fled to the cabin where the final shootout took place.
"It was horrifying to listen to that firefight, to hear those words 'officer down,' " Los Angeles Police Lt. Andy Neiman said Wednesday. "Our deepest sympathy to the families" of the deputies who were shot, he said.
Detective Jeremiah MacKay, 35, a 15-year department veteran, was killed. DeputyAlex Collins was wounded and has undergone multiple surgeries.
Authorities have not identified the weapons or caliber of bullets used in Tuesday's firefight.McMahon said hundreds of rounds were fired.
"It was like a war zone, and our deputies continued to go into that area. The rounds kept coming and they did not give up," he said, calling his men "absolutely true heroes."
MacKay's death was the fourth slaying attributed to Dorner, who also wounded three police officers last week in what his Facebook manifesto outlined as a campaign of revenge for having been fired from the police force. Officials will re-examine allegations by Dorner that his law enforcement career was undone by racist colleagues.
Other victims include Riverside Officer Michael Crain, 34, who was fatally shot last week as he sat in his police cruiser. On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered for his funeral.
Police will continue to protect dozens of officers and others Dorner threatened in his manifesto until Dorner's death is confirmed, Neiman said.
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 after SWAT teams had fired tear gas inside as part of a "tactical operation" to flush out Dorner.
LAPD 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 is confirmed to be that of Dorner.
Contributing: William M. Welch in Los Angeles and John Bacon in McLean, Va.