Updated: Wed, 13 Feb 2013 23:20:09 GMT | By Tracy Connor and Matthew DeLuca

Tied-up mother and daughter key to ending manhunt

The charred remains of the cabin where ex-cop Christopher Dorner was believed to have been holed up.

The charred remains of the cabin where ex-cop Christopher Dorner was believed to have been holed up.

When the pair arrived to tidy a rental cabin not far from a police command post, they found the alleged cop killer holed up inside.

Dorner, the target of the biggest manhunt in LAPD history, then tied them up, swiped a purple Nissan and left, said officials with the California Fish and Wildlife Department.

And he might have had a chance to flee the Big Bear ski resort area where scores of police had conducted a door-to-door search for him – except one of the women got free, called 911 and alerted cops that a man who looked like Dorner was on the run, the officials said.

That call set in motion a dramatic and tragic chain of events in which one sheriff’s deputy was killed in a gun battle outside a second cabin where the suspect’s charred body would be found before the day’s end.

“It was like a war zone and our deputies continued to go in to that area,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “The rounds kept coming, but our deputies didn’t give up.”

Police have not officially determined that the corpse found in the burned-out county was Dorner, who kept southern California in fear for a week as, authorities say, he carried out a murderous campaign of revenge against the LAPD. They are waiting for forensics.

The San Bernardino Sheriff’s office has said they don’t believe the gunman who barricaded himself inside the cabin escaped before it erupted in flames.

“We believe that this investigation is over at this point and we’ll need to move on from here,” said McMahon.

McMahon said police did not intentionally set the cabin ablaze, but the pyrotechnic tear gas canisters — commonly referred to as “burners,” he said — generate a high level of heat.

 It was when police began using the pyrotechnic canisters to flush out the suspect that the fire began.

The LAPD, which had been under a series of tactical alerts while Dorner was on the lam has returned to normal operations on Wednesday, although a dozen people on hit list remained under guard, said Lt. Andy Neiman.

"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.

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 cops in two cities, killing Officer Michael Crain.

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 fear across the region and in the ranks of law-enforcement.

After the man believed to be Dorner fled the cabin where he had encountered the two women, wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spotted the purple Nissan and gave chase.

The suspect lost them and, it appears, ditched the Nissan and carjacked a white pickup.

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 the pickup, but let the man and his dog go. Shortly after Dorner sped off, Heltebrake heard gunshots.

That may have been the brief exchange of fire between Dorner and another game warden who spotted the pickup and pursued it. The warden’s truck was riddled with bullets, but he was not hurt, officials said.

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 sheriff’s deputy Jeremiah MacKay had died and another had surgery but was expected to survive.

MacKay, 35, joined the department in 1998 and was father to a 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

“Our department is grieving from this event,” said McMahon.

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. Investigators continued to scour the crime scene Wednesday as other police gathered in Riverside for the funeral of Officer Crain.

Neiman said it was difficult to celebrate the apparent end to the rampage given the loss of four lives, two of them lawmen.

“This has been a very trying time,” he said. “To hear those words ‘officer down’ is the most gut-wrenching experience you can have as a police officer,” Neiman said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Rafferty

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