Authorities Confident Christopher Dorner Search Over, Body Will Need To Be ID'd (With CBS News Video)
(CBS News) The sweeping manhunt for a fugitive ex-cop wanted in a deadly rampage appears to be over.
Overnight, sheriff's deputies said charred remains were found inside a burned-out cabin near Big Bear Lake, Calif., east of Los Angeles. It's not yet confirmed if the remains are those of Christopher Dorner.
The cabin went up in flames after an intense shootout. Only CBS News captured the gunfight while it was happening. CBS News correspondent Carter Evans was in the middle of it all.
Early Tuesday, two cleaning ladies at a condominium in Big Bear discovered a man they say looked like Dorner. He took them hostage, tied them up and tried to escape, stealing a pair of vehicles along the way. Now law enforcement officials are confident they got the right man.
Acting on reports of a carjacking, law enforcement officials quickly tracked the man accused of targeting police officers and their families.
"The suspect that stole the vehicle matched the description. He crashed the car and then took off into the forest," San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.
As he barricaded himself in an empty cabin, the man believed to be Dorner fired a .50-caliber sniper rifle, shooting two deputies, killing one of them.
Following tactical teams, CBS News' crew was caught in the middle of a second firefight.
Asked how Evans was able to get so close to the firefight, he said he and his crew received a tip on where to find some police teams searching for Dorner and then heard the carjacking reports.
"At that point we started following those search teams, and they jumped out of their cars with their rifles drawn and started firing, and only then did we really realize what we rolled up on," Evans said.
At one point, the man believed to be Dorner tried to escape by throwing a smoke grenade at officers. Police also deployed smoke grenades, setting up a screen so the wounded could be evacuated.
The resort town of Big Bear had been the focus of the manhunt since last Thursday, when a burned-out truck belonging to Dorner was found in the area, along with weapons, survival gear and a gas mask. As the media descended on the town and SWAT teams searched door to door, police now believe Dorner was hiding in plain sight in an unoccupied condo just across the road from their command post.
On "CBS This Morning" Wednesday, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, who once headed the Los Angeles Police Department's Major Crimes Division, reported that the cabin had apparently been empty for some time and it remained unclear whether Dorner had been hiding in it for hours or days.
The search for Dorner had gone on for several days without a confirmed sighting of the suspect. That prompted former LAPD Chief William Bratton, whose name was on a hit list included in Dorner's online manifesto, to meet Tuesday afternoon with the threat-assessment unit in the New York Police Department's Intelligence Division Tuesday afternoon, he said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday.
"My company was starting to get a little nervous about the idea that he had not been seen for several days, would have had time to begun to move around, so in response to their concerns they had just begun a threat-assessment process here in the event that there was a sighting in this area," Bratton said.
In Los Angeles, 50 protection details had guarded Dorner's possible targets. In an online rant, Dorner pledged revenge against those he says were responsible for his being fired from the LAPD, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.
Dorner claims he was wrongly dismissed when he complained his training officer had used excessive force. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had reopened the case, "not to appease him but to make sure that the community understands that we're transparent and we value fairness," Beck said.
In a Wednesday morning briefing, LAPD spokesman Lt. Andy Neiman said "approximately a dozen or so" of the protection details would continue until the department and the people being protected felt safe.
"We still have some individuals in this department who are still in great fear," Neiman told reporters. "When your life and the lives of your family are placed in jeopardy and threatened with death, that's quite something to deal with."
Late Tuesday, heavily armed officers finally cornered their suspect. They fired tear gas and deployed vehicles to rip down the house where he was holed up. Then, a single gunshot from inside. Smoke and flames soon poured from the cabin.
Multiple rounds of exploding ammunition could be heard in the crackle of the fire, but no one was ever seen running from the burning building.
For several hours, there were reports that the cabin was too hot and too dangerous for authorities to enter, but now officials have said they found a charred body inside. The coroner will investigate and only then will they be able to positively identify the body.
Miller reported that San Bernardino County authorities are "very confident" the body is Dorner's, noting the powerful weapon and the smoke grenade the gunman used in the standoff.
"These are not things that would be consistent with any other criminal they would be chasing up here," said Miller. "This guy came up there armed to the teeth."
Because Dorner was with the military and the LAPD, authorities will be able to match his DNA, fingerprints and other records on file against the body when it is recovered from the burned-down house.
Investigators had been on Dorner's trail since he allegedly started gunning for police officers and their families last week. On Sunday night, a reported sighting at a Lowe's hardware store near Los Angeles led to a massive police response. The dragnet extended south, where agents searched every car crossing the Mexican border.
Dorner's rampage began Feb. 3 in Irvine, Calif., when police say he shot and killed Keith Lawrence, 27, and his fiancee Monica Quan, a 28-year-old college basketball coach. Quan was the daughter of retired former LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, who defended Dorner in disciplinary hearings that resulted in his termination.
Early Thursday, police say Dorner exchanged gunfire with two officers in Corona, Calif., when they tried to approach him. Later that morning, he allegedly ambushed two Riverside policemen at a stoplight. One died.
In his manifesto posted on his Facebook page, Dorner boasted that he could outsmart his pursuers, writing, "I will utilize every bit of small arms training, demolition, ordnance, and survival training I've been given."
Below, watch Carter Evans' report on the police standoff with the suspected gunman