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How life on run ended for California police killer

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BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. — As soon as he heard officers were chasing the suspected cop killer in a stolen truck, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Roger Loftis was certain: His buddy Jeremiah MacKay would be there.

In 15 years with the department, "Jer" had earned about a dozen and a half awards for 10851s — the California penal code for grand theft auto. Once, while heading to a bar to celebrate another award, MacKay noticed there were no keys in the ignition of the car next to him at a traffic light, and he veered off.

He waltzed into the bar two hours later, a grin stretched across that fair, freckled face, a copy of an auto recovery record in his hand.

Last week, Loftis called his fishing, drinking and golfing buddy to see how he was doing. He knew the 35-year-old detective had been working around the clock, scouring the San Bernardino Mountains in the search for former Los Angeles Police Officer Christopher Dorner.

"If that guy's still on this mountain," MacKay told him, "I'm going to find him."

When the announcer reported that two deputies had exchanged fire with the suspect, Loftis got a sick feeling in his stomach. The 54-year-old corrections officer sent his friend a text.

"I know you're busy," he typed. "But let me know you're OK. ASAP."

There was no answer.

About an hour later, a colleague called with the news: MacKay, husband and father of two, was dead. Soon, so would be his killer.

Like the Unabomber and other mass killers, the 33-year-old former cop wrote a "manifesto." And, like so many others, Dorner's perceptions of the world and its supposed injustices against him seem out of sync with reality.

Why now?

Was it the supposed institutional racism that cost him his LAPD badge? That was four years ago.

Was it, as he once suggested, residual trauma from his military service in the Middle East? Records show a relatively benign tour of duty, well outside the war zone.

One marriage fell apart; a second went no further than the license application. This, too, he seemed to blame on others — anyone but himself.

"I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own," he wrote to his targets. "I'm terminating yours."

Even his boasts of paramilitary prowess and promise to "bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" to southern California evaporated in a cavalcade of broken-down vehicles, failed hijackings and a botched hog-tying. His weeklong stint as America's most wanted fugitive ended in a shootout with police, and then what officials said was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

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At 6 feet and 270 pounds, Christopher Jordan Dorner looked every inch the college football player he once was.

Melinda Yates befriended Dorner when they attended Southern Utah University together in Cedar City, a small town northeast of Las Vegas. She remembers him as "kind of like a big teddy bear," always smiling.

Apparently, behind that sweet smile there was rage.

Dorner claimed his earliest experience with racism was in first grade at a Christian school, when he punched and kicked a fellow student who'd called him a "nigger" on the playground. The principal "swatted" the other boy for the slur, then struck Dorner for failing to "turn the other cheek as Jesus did."

"That day," he would write in the now infamous manifesto, "I made a life decision that i will not tolerate racial derogatory terms spoken to me."

Dorner joined the Navy in July 2002. He told a reporter that he wanted to fly SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk helicopters on special operations and search-and-rescue missions — but later told an acquaintance that a problem with vertigo killed those dreams.

So he went into the Navy Reserve doing mostly administrative work after his active-duty stint ended in June 2004.

Soon afterward, he shifted his sights to the LAPD.

He entered the academy on Feb. 7, 2005.

Like the other cadets, Dorner went through the department's rigorous six-month, 920-hour academy training. Upon completion, he joined a training officer on the street, working regular 12-hour shifts. There was at least one bump in the road: He was suspended for two days for accidental discharge of his firearm.

A year after Dorner became a police officer, he rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Navy on Aug. 1, 2006 — his last promotion.

He was called up in the Reserve and left on a six-month deployment to Bahrain on Nov. 3, 2006. He worked mostly providing port protection, earning an Iraq Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Dorner returned to the LAPD in 2007 and resumed his training. That is when his career — and life — went off the rails.

Sgt. Teresa Evans, his training officer, said Dorner repeatedly asked why he was being put back on patrol without reintegration training. On one occasion, she said, he began weeping in the patrol car and demanded to go back to the academy.

Dorner told Evans that he "might have some issues regarding his deployment," she told investigators.

A day after Evans submitted a poor review, Dorner told internal affairs that she had kicked a mentally ill man in the chest and left cheek during an arrest. He was relieved of duty on Sept. 4, 2008.

A police review panel ultimately found the allegation untrue. He was officially fired on Jan. 2, 2009.

There were already hints of a troubled personal life; Dorner married April Carter in April 2007 and bought a home a few miles from the Las Vegas Strip. Less than a month later, the couple filed for a divorce.

(More than five years later, on Oct. 19 of last year, Las Vegas records show that he and Ali Kristine McDonald obtained a marriage license. But there is no indication they actually married.)

Months after he was fired, Dorner filed a writ in Los Angeles Superior Court against the LAPD, alleging wrongful termination. He continued filing appeals in different courts up until 2011.

But why Dorner unleashed his revenge now is unclear. Former roommate J'Anna Viskoc has a theory.

For about two months in the summer of 2008, the Las Vegas manicurist rented a room in Dorner's home. Aside from all the guns — which were "on the floor, under the cushions" — she remembers the uniformed portraits and framed displays of his medals.

"I feel like being a police officer and being in the military, that was his identity," she said. "That was who he was."

On Feb. 1, Dorner received an honorable discharge, ending his lackluster 11-year Navy career.

"Maybe that's what set him off," Viskoc wondered. "That he couldn't win."

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Dorner claimed his first victims on Feb. 3.

Monica Quan, 28, was an assistant women's basketball coach at California State University, Fullerton. She was also the daughter of retired LAPD Capt. Randal Quan — the man who had represented Dorner in his disciplinary hearings.

She lived in an Irvine condominium with boyfriend Keith Lawrence — a former basketball player and University of Southern California cop whose shoes and buckles she had stayed up until the wee hours polishing when he was at the police academy. On Jan. 26, Lawrence, 27, had strewn the apartment floor with rose petals, gotten down on one knee and proposed, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Just over a week later, at 9:10 p.m., Quan and Lawrence were found slumped in their car in the parking lot of their condo complex. They were fatally shot.

The next morning, an employee emptying the trash behind a San Diego-area auto parts store spotted some military gear in a trash bin. Around that same time, Dorner posted his 11,000-word screed entitled "Last Resort" on Facebook.

"This was a necessary evil that had to be executed in order for me to obtain my NAME back," Dorner wrote. "The only thing that changes policy and garners attention is death."

The rambling post went on: "When the truth comes out, the killing stops."

The document would lurk in cyberspace for two more days before police discovered it and connected it to the Irvine killings. They held a news conference to name Dorner as a suspect.

The next day, Feb. 7, Dorner struck again.

Around 1:30 a.m. two LAPD officers assigned to protect one of the people named in Dorner's manifesto spotted him in the Riverside County community of Corona. During a shootout, one officer was grazed on the forehead.

A short while later in nearby Riverside, SWAT team Officer Michael Crain and trainee Andrew Tachias were in the middle of a graveyard shift.

The 34-year-old former Marine had served two tours of duty in Kuwait before joining the Riverside force in 2001. As a Marine, Crain had once taught urban warfare tactics, but on this day he had no time to react.

The two were waiting at a stoplight when someone — believed to be Dorner — raced up and opened fire on them. Tachias, 27, was critically wounded; Crain was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Before dawn, freeway signs lit up statewide with a description of Dorner and his pickup, and a warning that he should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.

Later that morning, authorities found a burned-out pickup truck near the Bear Mountain ski area in the San Bernardino Mountains. The truck, which had a broken axle, was loaded with weapons and camping gear.

Police later confirmed it was the black Nissan Titan Dorner had so religiously buffed and polished.

Tips poured in, topping 1,000 after a $1 million reward was posted on Feb. 9. The Mexican navy went on alert following a report that Dorner had attempted to steal a yacht in San Diego.

Other suspected sightings of Dorner over the week led to authorities mistakenly firing on two newspaper carriers, shutting down a Navy base in San Diego, evacuating a Los Angeles area home improvement store, and raiding at a low-budget motel across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. But the manhunt was centered on the mountains. That was Jeremiah MacKay's territory.

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MacKay's father, Alan, is something of a legend in these hills.

A former captain with the San Bernardino County Fire Department, the elder MacKay had played a key role during the 2003 "Old Fire," which burned more than 91,000 acres, killed five people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. The Redlands resident put in 15-hour days, fighting the fire and acting as a department spokesman when needed.

Loftis says the son had initially planned to follow in the father's footsteps. But a few ride-alongs with deputies patrolling the waters of Lake Arrowhead convinced him to go for another type of badge.

The younger MacKay had been putting in 12-hour days searching for Dorner. On Feb. 9, an Associated Press reporter ran across him during a patrol around the lake.

Despite having been on duty since 5 a.m., MacKay and his partner were in good spirits. Standing by the car door in full tactical gear, MacKay tucked the stock of his Mini-14 rifle against his shoulder and practiced sighting down the barrel, aiming playfully at a snowdrift.

"This one, you just never know if the guy's going to pop out or where he's going to pop out," he told a reporter, crinkling his brow and shaking his head. "We're hoping this comes to a close without any more casualties. The best thing would be for him to give up."

The next day, MacKay was excited to see his photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. But he chided himself, cousin Kelly Mitchell says, for having what he considered "a smug look" on his face.

Jeremiah and Lynette MacKay married in late 2011. Lynette had a 7-year-old daughter from a previous relationship; about four months ago, she gave birth to a son.

As a bagpiper for the Inland Empire Emerald Society, MacKay had played at many memorials and funerals for fallen officers. He knew this hunt was perilous, but he knew just as well that Dorner had to be stopped.

And he was determined to be the one who did it.

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Jim and Karen Reynolds were in the process of refurbishing their condo near Big Bear, working on it off and on through the winter season. They had last been there on Feb. 6 and weren't planning to come back until Valentine's Day, but decided to check in early after learning that Dorner's truck had been abandoned nearby.

When they walked into the upstairs living room Tuesday morning, Dorner was waiting for them with his gun drawn. He had been there at least five days — within shouting distance of a command post set up by the people hunting him.

"Stay calm," he shouted. When Karen Reynolds turned to run out, he grabbed her from behind.

Karen Reynolds said Dorner was calm and "very methodical" as he instructed them to sit, then tied their hands and legs.

"I don't have a problem with you," he told the couple. "I just want to clear my name."

Dorner moved the couple to a bedroom and shut the door.

When they felt he had gone, Karen Reynolds managed to get to her feet and, with her hands still tied behind her back, open the door. To her amazement, Dorner had left her cell phone on the living room table.

She picked it up and dialed 911. It was 12:22 p.m. Tuesday.

Dorner had taken off in the couple's purple Nissan SUV. It wasn't long before officers, now alerted, spotted the fugitive.

Dorner managed to evade a group of wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and some sheriff's deputies. But he later crashed the Nissan and struck out on foot.

Rick Heltebrake was driving the perimeter of a Boy Scout camp he watches over when Dorner — his bulletproof vest bristling with rifle magazines — emerged from the tree line.

"I don't want to hurt you," Dorner said in a calm, businesslike voice as he pointed his rifle at the 51-year-old Heltebrake. "Start walking and take your dog."

Heltebrake sensed that Dorner, who stole his truck, was on a mission, and that he wasn't part of the agenda. Suni took his 3-year-old Dalmatian and walked away.

Heltebrake had just called police when he heard gunfire.

___

When he left the house that morning, MacKay told his wife that he'd never been happier, Mitchell, his cousin, said. He called her the love of his life.

Hours later, he was on the trail of the stolen pickup.

The fugitive raced 25 miles down the mountain as officers converged. MacKay and his partner, Alex Collins, responded.

Not far up the road from where Dorner had left Heltebrake, some game wardens spotted the white truck speeding erratically. Dorner opened the window and fired.

According to sheriff's department officials, MacKay and his partner followed where they believed the truck had gone. They were unaware that Dorner had crashed it. They spotted tracks in the snow leading to a cabin and got out of their cruiser.

The pair stopped about 30 yards from the cabin to devise a plan when shots were fired. Neither deputy had a chance to return fire. Both were hit multiple times. A doctor told Loftis death for MacKay came instantly or in "just seconds."

Collins survived but has undergone multiple surgeries. A SWAT team arrived quickly and laid down covering fire to allow the officers to be airlifted.

Dorner set off some smoke grenades and prepared to make his last stand. His end game would play out on live television.

Officers from across the region converged on the cabin, cutting off all escape. Four hours after the chase Tuesday, police launched tear gas through the windows.

Around 4:45 p.m., flames and smoke began billowing from the house. Officers then heard the single gunshot from inside.

The manhunt was over.

___

In the end, Dorner fell blessedly short of his stated goals.

Despite declaring war on "those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty," the only victim with a direct link to the department was Monica Quan. And it is more than a little ironic that a man lashing out against racial injustice should murder the daughter of the LAPD's first Chinese-American captain.

A joint memorial service for Quan and Lawrence is planned for Feb. 24 at Irvine's Concordia University, where they met. Lawrence — at the request of his father — will be buried in his public safety officer's uniform, said his training supervisor Capt. David Carlisle.

The service had been on hold while Quarn's father was in custody to protect him from Dorner's rampage.

On Wednesday, Crain — the father who loved attending his 4-year-old daughter's dance recitals and coaching his son's baseball team — was buried with full honors. His 10-year-old son, Ian, joined officers carrying his father's casket out of the church to the mournful drone of bagpipes.

MacKay's funeral is scheduled Thursday at San Bernardino's San Manuel Amphitheater. The Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, with whom he'd often played, will be there to send him off.

Loftis is having trouble imagining life without his friend. Coming to grips with the depth of Dorner's betrayal is even harder.

"He got the best of us. He took one of the best that we have," he said ruefully. "He lost a job because he didn't deserve it, and he takes these officers' lives, really, for nothing. It was stupid and senseless."

* Julie Watson and Tami Abdollah reported from California; A. Breed reported from Raleigh, N.C. Associated Press writers Greg Risling, Gillian Flaccus, Robert Jablon in Los Angeles; Elliot Spagat in San Diego; Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; and researchers Rhonda Shafner and Susan James in New York contributed to this report.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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