Dorner manhunt: A sigh of relief and anguish in Big Bear
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Many Big Bear residents have spent days on edge, wondering whether Christopher Dorner was still lurking in the small but bustling mountain resort.
Authorities swarmed the community Thursday, after the fugitive former police officer’s burning truck was found on a forest road. Hundreds of officers scoured the woods, conducting cabin-to-cabin checks for any signs of the murder suspect.
That massive manhunt appeared to draw to a close Tuesday, when authorities said a man believed to be Dorner resurfaced when two cleaning workers discovered him inside a Big Bear condo. He allegedly tied them up and stole a Nissan.
But he was spotted by California Fish and Wildlife officials. Dorner allegedly crashed the car and stole a different truck while trying to evade authorities, eventually holing up in a cabin near Seven Oaks. A gun battle ensued and the wood structure later caught fire, burning to the foundation.
A body was discovered inside late Tuesday, though officials had not made a positive identification Wednesday morning.
Still, many area residents said they were relieved the saga seems to have come to a close.
‘Time to crack open the champagne,’ said Carl Macon, 53.
Macon lives blocks away from a condo where Dorner is believed to have been discovered by the cleaning crew. Authorities aren’t sure how long Dorner might have been in the condo. But Macon said it was unsettling to know he walked his dog by the condo every day. He described Dorner’s alleged acts as ‘something out of a suspense book.’
Macon said his house has been tense, despite a visit by a SWAT team late last week as part of a cabin check by authorities. Despite rumors Dorner might have left the mountain, Macon said he thought chances were good the fugitive had stayed.
But now, he said, it’s ‘time to chill.’ Though many felt at ease after Tuesday, others expressed bittersweet feelings at the situation’s end. Two San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies were shot during Tuesday’s gun fight, one of whom was killed.
“We are relieved, freed of the sense of being a community that is not safe because there is a cop killer hiding in our little mountain town,’ said Big Bear Lake Mayor Jay Obernolte. ‘But there is also a great sense of anguish. It’s sobering to think of the sacrifices that deputies made in the defense of our community.”
A statement from the Big Bear Lake Resort Assn. echoed Obernolte’s thoughts.
“Our hearts go out to all law enforcement that put their lives on the line to protect Big Bear,” said Assn. President Joyce Reed. “We are especially mournful for the deputy who lost his life during this tragic incident, and we send our deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the deputy’s family.”
Other residents said they couldn’t believe that Dorner appeared to have been in the area all along.
Picking up their mail and a package at the U.S. Post office in Angelus Oaks, Donna Gaston and her husband, Jack, said they were shocked by the news.
‘We figured he was five states away from here,’ Donna Gaston said.
At Oaks Restaurant in Angelus Oaks, customers gave interviews to reporters as they ordered their food. Waitress Ashley King, 26, admitted things had been hectic, but said the staff didn’t mind.
‘It was very scary,’ she said of the ordeal. ‘He was very close to where I live. At least now those officers will be safe.’
— Phil Willon, Ruben Vives and Louis Sahagun in Big Bear, and Kate Mather in Los Angeles