While LAPD awaits confirmation from the San Bernardino Sheriff's department as to whether the charred remains found at Big Bear Mountain are those of ex-cop Christopher Dorner, spokesman Andy Neiman says protective details will remain in place for officers close to the investigation who still feel threatened.
With a chase, a raging gun battle, and a blazing cabin fire, the hunt for suspect Christopher Dorner that has kept Southern California in terror for the past week appears to be over.
Charred human remains were discovered in the Big Bear cabin where police sources say the burly ex-LAPD officer barricaded himself in what might have been the deadly end to the biggest manhunt Los Angeles has ever seen.
The LAPD, which has been under a series of tactical alerts as Dorner allegedly hunted policemen on a hit list, has returned to normal operations, Lt. Andy Neiman said at a Wednesday morning briefing.
But as the sun rose over Big Bear, with one deputy dead and another recovering from surgery after being shot in a gun battle at the cabin, much remained unclear.
Police have not officially said whether the body found in the burned-out cabin was Dorner. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement on Tuesday that identification would be attempted “through forensic means.”
"Thanks to the brave men and women of the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department, it looks like we have our man," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" early Wednesday.
Yet, the targets named in the rambling 11,000-word manifesto police say was posted online by Dorner will remain under special protection until a positive identification has been made, officials said.
Investigators had been combing the ski resort area since Thursday, when Dorner’s burned out Nissan truck was found there hours after he allegedly ambushed police officers in two cities, killing one of them.
Days earlier, police believe, Dorner executed the daughter of a retired police captain and her fiancé in Irvine to kick off a killing spree that sowed terror across the region and in the ranks of law-enforcement.
The first real evidence that Dorner was still in the mountains came Tuesday about 12:22 p.m. local time when a man fitting his description had stolen a car in the area.
Rick Heltebrake, 61, told TODAY on Wednesday that he was driving near the Boy Scout camp he operates when a heavily armed man he recognized as Dorner, 33, crawled out of the woods, pointing a rifle at him.
He said the hulking former Navy reservist was wearing camouflage and a ballistics vest and told Heltebrake, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“He was dressed for action,” Heltebrake said.
Dorner commandeered his car, but let the man and his dog to go, according to Heltebrake. Shortly after Dorner sped off, Heltebrake heard gunshots.
Wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game had spotted Dorner and one of them exchanged gunfire with the suspects, a spokesman said. The warden was not hurt, though his truck was riddled with bullets.
Dorner then “fled into the forest and barricaded himself inside a cabin,” the San Bernardino Sheriff’s office said. “A short time later there was an exchange of gunfire between law enforcement and the suspect.”
Two deputies were shot and taken to Loma Linda University Hospital, where officials later confirmed one had died and another had surgery but was expected to survive. Neither has been identified.
No further shots were fired from the Angelus Oaks cabin before police began to storm the building, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.
Deputies smashed the cabin’s windows, fired in tear gas, and tore through the structure’s walls using an armored personnel carrier, a source close to the probe told NBCLosAngeles.com. A single gunshot then rang out, according to the source, and flames and smoke began to emerge from the remains of the building.
It was hours before police were able to enter the cabin and find the body.
“There is a lot of apprehension today in any kind of celebration because this is not a celebration,” Neiman said of the apparent end to the rampage. “This has been a very trying time.”
He said the LAPD was mourning the death of two comrades – the Riverside police officer shot dead Thursday and the deputy killed in the standoff.
“To hear those words ‘officer down’ is the most gut-wrenching experience you can have as a police officer,” Neiman said.
NBC News’ Tracy Connor contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:03 AM EST