LOS ANGELES — A former Navy reservist who was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008 has gone on a murderous rampage aimed at police officers and their families, law enforcement officials said Thursday, killing at least three people — including an 11-year veteran of the Riverside Police Department — and setting off a huge manhunt across Southern California.
Police were on high alert in a dragnet that appeared to rattle even a part of the country familiar with sweeping police hunts. Protection teams were dispatched overnight to guard uniformed officers and their families, scores of officers set up lines of defense outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, and motorcycle officers were ordered to retreat to the safety of patrol cars.
In Torrance, two women delivering newspapers were shot and wounded by police officers who mistook the Honda pickup they were driving for the one identified as belonging to the gunman, a gray Nissan. About 12 hours later in San Diego, squads of police cars, in a blaze of red lights and screeching tires, converged on a motel where the suspect was mistakenly thought to be hiding after his wallet was found on a sidewalk.
As night fell, the gray Nissan was found, destroyed by flames, at the side of a dirt road in a snowy, wooded area near Big Bear, a ski resort about 100 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The resort and local schools were closed as soon as the vehicle was discovered.
The suspect was identified as Christopher J. Dorner, 33, who worked for the Los Angeles Police Department from 2004 to 2008. Dorner had posted a rambling and threatening note on his Facebook page, which police referred to as "his manifesto," complaining of severe depression and pledging to kill police officers to avenge his dismissal for filing a false police report accusing a colleague of police abuse.
Dorner said he had struggled to clear his name in court before resorting to violence.
The 6,000-word manifesto was bristling with anger and explicit threats, naming two dozen police officers he intended to kill. Dorner laid out grievances against a police department that he said remained riddled with racism and corruption, a reference to a chapter of the department's history that, in the view of many people, was long ago swept aside.
Authorities responded by assigning special security details to protect the people named in the manifesto and asked the news media not to publish their names.
"I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back," he wrote. "I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort. The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences.
"I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty," he wrote.
The police said that Dorner was traveling with multiple weapons, including an assault weapon. On his Facebook page, Dorner posted a certificate from the Department of the Navy attesting that he had completed a course of training to become an antiterrorism officer at the Center for Security Forces.
"Dorner is considered to be armed and extremely dangerous," said chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department. "He knows what he's doing; we trained him. He was also a member of the armed forces. It is extremely worrisome and scary, especially to the police officers involved."
Dorner bragged about his lethal skills.
"You are aware that I have always been the top shot, highest score, an expert in rifle qualification in every unit I have been on," he wrote.
The rampage began with a double homicide in Orange County on Sunday. One of the victims, Monica Quan, 28, was the daughter of a former Los Angeles police captain who had defended Dorner in his disciplinary proceedings.
On Wednesday, Beck said, Dorner tried to hijack a boat in San Diego. Early Thursday morning, police officers assigned to protect an officer named by Dorner were alerted by a civilian who spotted a man resembling the suspect. As they followed him, Dorner opened fire as they approached him — grazing one in the head — before he fled, Beck said.
Less than an hour later, the suspect approached two Riverside police officers parked at a traffic light in a marked patrol car and opened fire, killing one and seriously wounding the second.
"The Riverside officers were cowardly ambushed," Beck said. "They had no opportunity to fight back, no pre-warning."
At Big Bear, police officials said they were prepared to search through the night, weather permitting: a winter snowstorm was approaching. Sheriff John McMahon of San Bernardino County said that footprints had been found in the show leading from the abandoned vehicle; he would not say where they led.
McMahon said that about 125 law enforcement officers were going door-to-door in the area searching for the suspect and making certain that residents there were safe.
The authorities were concerned that the gunman would expand his choice of targets. "This is a vendetta against all Southern California law enforcement, and it should be seen as such," Beck said
More than a dozen law enforcement agencies across Southern California — from Riverside, east of Los Angeles, down to San Diego — were engaged in the search. Police vehicles crowded the freeways, where electronic signs urged drivers to look out for the suspect's vehicle.
FBI agents staked out a home in Orange County where neighbors said Dornan's mother lived. Neighbors said that they had seen Dornan on and off after he returned from a two-year deployment in the Middle East in 2006. They all said he was a cordial and approachable neighbor.
"I don't expect to see him anymore, because I know that this is a hot area for him," said Ike Gonzalez, who has lived there since 1973.
Dornan was dismissed after being charged with making false statements about his training officer, who he alleged had kicked a suspect. A review board ultimately found Dornan guilty. Dornan sued the department, but both the trial court and an appellate court upheld his termination.
In his online manifesto, Dornan railed against the officers involved in his hearing. "You destroyed my life and name because of your actions," he wrote. "Time is up."
"I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I'm terminating yours," he wrote. "Look your wives/husbands and surviving children directly in the face and tell them the truth as to why your children are dead."