US & Canada

Dorner's 'last stand' after hiding in plain sight

Thick snow still blankets the small ski town of Big Bear Lake after a weekend storm which had hindered the search for Christopher Dorner.

A massive manhunt led sheriffs here last week after the 33-year-old's truck was found burning on a mountain road.

The authorities went from house to house in the snow, looking for the ex-policeman who was suspected of double murder and of killing a former colleague while on the run.

They used snow cat vehicles to scour the area for any sign of the 270lb (122kg) African American, who was not thought to have had any winter survival training.

'Heartbroken'

The ex-Navy reservist and former police officer was heavily armed. As the trail appeared to go cold, there was speculation that someone else was involved - or that the burning car was a decoy.

Security was stepped up across southern California and there were long delays at the US-Mexico border as every vehicle was searched.

But it appears he was hiding out in one of the hundreds of mountain cabins in the centre of town - just half a mile from the police control centre.

"We haven't had so much excitement around here in 20 years since that armed bank robbery," one local said, getting a coffee as this tourist city 7,000ft (2,133m) up in the mountains could finally relax.

Ron White, from Big Bear Donuts, said the locals weren't afraid: "He was targeting police, not us."

The mayor of Big Bear Lake had said he was more worried that anyone who saw Dorner might have taken the law into their own hands.

"We are certainly very relieved that residents and tourists are now safe," Mayor Jay Obernolte told the BBC as police were still trying to identify the charred remains found in the burned-out cabin.

"But we are also heartbroken that we lost a sheriff's deputy. Our thoughts go out to his family."

He praised the action of the law enforcement agencies.

When asked how they could have missed the suspect in their search, he explained many of the cabins are holiday homes, locked up and left empty. Police could not just smash down every single door.

Who started fire?

But when Dorner decided to make a run for it back down the mountain and stole a car, the alarm was quickly raised and police were soon in pursuit.

There was an intense gunfight as he tried to escape from a mountain lodge he had barricaded himself into, no doubt aware from his military training that he would be surrounded.

The mountain roads were sealed off as dozens of police, FBI agents, sheriffs and snipers moved in.

Journalists followed the operation as it unfolded by listening into police radios.

From the recordings, since posted online, it appeared the police may have started the fire, which soon overwhelmed the wooden building.

As the lodge burned and there were mixed reports about whether or not a body had been found in the building, the authorities appeared pretty confident they had got their man.

At an Italian restaurant in Big Bear, staff and diners were relieved to hear the manhunt was finally over.

It might be a stereotype but when they said "it's such a calm place - nothing like that ever happens here", it seemed accurate in this laidback mountain town.

'Ghost town'

"A lot of citizens were worried," one diner told me. "As soon as people heard what was going on, this place was like a ghost town."

It's peak ski season and there's a great combination of California sunshine and well-covered slopes - the bars and restaurants are normally heaving.

Image caption Christopher Dorner had been inside this cabin a half-mile away from the police command centre

On Wednesday morning police were still blocking roads approaching the valley where the manhunt had come to an end.

The news helicopters buzzing overhead showed there was little left of the lodge but burned timbers.

It could be some time before forensic scientists can confirm the body is Dorner, but the manhunt is over.

Life here and down the mountain in Los Angeles, is getting back to normal.

Most of the protection teams deployed to guard dozens of potential targets of the former cop's grudge have returned to normal duty - LAPD is no longer on high alert.

Efforts now will switch to establishing what drove this disgruntled former employee to go on a deadly rampage as some form of revenge.

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