Charred human remains have been found in a burned-out cabin where a fugitive former police officer was believed to be, US police have confirmed.
The remains were found in the cabin in Big Bear Lake, California, after a shootout killed one sheriff’s deputy and injured another, a spokeswoman said.
Authorities believe fugitive Christopher Dorner barricaded himself inside the cabin and a fire later started.
Investigators will attempt to determine if the remains are Dorner’s through forensic tests.
Thousands of officers had been hunting the former Navy reservist since police said he launched a campaign to exact revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for being fired.
Police had been searching the snow-covered woods near Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, after Dorner’s car was found late last week.
The search for the most wanted man in America over the past week appears to have ended the way he expected – death, with the police pursuing him. He is believed to have killed at least four people.
The LAPD say Dorner threatened to bring “warfare” to officers and their families, spreading fear and setting off a search for him across the south west of the US and into Mexico.
Earlier, live TV pictures broadcast around the world showed flames engulfing the cabin with no apparent effort to extinguish them.
“We have reason to believe that it is him,” said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman, adding that she did not know how the fire started. She said there was gunfire between the person in the cabin and officers around the home before the blaze began.
Until yesterday, authorities did not know whether Dorner was still near Big Bear Lake, where they found his burned-out pick-up truck last week.
Yesterday afternoon, deputies got a report of a stolen pick-up truck directly across the street from where police set up their command post on Thursday, not far from where Dorner’s pick-up was abandoned. The owner of the vehicle taken yesterday described the suspect as looking similar to Dorner.
A warden for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife travelling down Highway 38 recognised a man who fit Dorner’s description driving in the opposite direction. The officer pursued the vehicle and there was a shooting in which the wildlife vehicle was hit numerous times and the suspect 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 is 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 defence of the community and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.”
A SWAT team surrounded the cabin and used an armoured vehicle to break out the windows, an official said. Officers then pumped gas into the cabin and blasted a message over a loudspeaker: “Surrender or come out.”
The armoured vehicle then tore down each of the cabin’s four walls, the official said.
Police say Dorner began his run on February 6 after they connected the killings 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 6ft, 20st Dorner, described as armed and “extremely dangerous”, he unsuccessfully tried to steal a boat in San Diego 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 on Thursday in Torrance because they mistook their pick-up 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 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.”
One of the targets listed in the manifesto was former LAPD Captain 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, 28, a college basketball coach, and her fiance, Keith Lawrence, 27. They were shot multiple times in their car in a parking garage near their Orange County flat.
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.