BIG BEAR LAKE, California (CNN) — The manhunt for an ex-cop accused of killing three people as part of a revenge plot targeting police was dialed back early Saturday after heavy snow hampered the search in a Southern California mountain resort community.
Even as authorities said search teams were set to return to Big Bear Lake at first daylight, questions were being raised about whether Christopher Jordan Dorner was still in the area as police in California, Nevada and Arizona remained on alert.
“The possibility exists that he is here, somewhere in the forest, so we’re going to keep looking…until we determine that he’s not here,” said Cindy Bachman, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Unconfirmed sightings of the 270-pound, 6-foot Dorner have been reported as far away as Las Vegas and the California-Mexico border, according to reports.
Dorner, 33, allegedly wrote a manifesto declaring war on police and their families in retaliation for being fired from his job as a Los Angeles Police Department officer and then losing an appeal to be reinstated.
Dorner is accused of killing two people in Irvine on Sunday and then on Thursday shooting at three Los Angeles-area police officers, one of whom later died.
For now, the focus of the manhunt remains on Big Bear and the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains, where Dorner’s burned out pickup was found a day earlier.
The truck had a broken axle, which would have prevent the truck from moving, and footprints appear to show that Dorner doubled back into the community, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.
It was unclear where Dorner may have gone from there or by what means, the source said.
Guns found in the truck also were burned, but authorities believe Dorner may have as many as 30 weapons with him, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source was not authorized to release details to the media.
Dorner, who retired from the Navy Reserve on February 1, was trained in counterinsurgency and intelligence, the source said.
The 270-pound, 6-foot former Navy lieutenant promised to bring “unconventional and asymmetrical warfare” to police officers and their families, calling it the “last resort” to clear his name and retaliate at a department that he says mistreated him.
Dorner is wanted in the killings on Sunday of two people in Irvine and in the shooting of three Los Angeles-area police officers Thursday, one of whom died.
One of the victims of the Irvine killings, Monica Quan, was the daughter of the retired police officer who represented Dorner in his efforts to get his job back, police said.
Police teams were dressed in snow gear, holding the trigger guards on their assault-style rifles on Friday while scouring eight square miles near Big Bear Lake, a popular skiing area two hours east of Los Angeles.
Two inches of snow Friday coated the mountaintop pine trees and roads around Big Bear Lake, leading motorists to use tire chains. Up to six more inches were expected.
By Friday night, police were expected to have completed a search of vacant cabins in the snow-packed forest of the San Bernardino Mountains near the resort town of Big Bear Lake, Bachman said.
“Once it gets dark out there and the snow keeps falling and they have no air support, I don’t know how effective they would be in that situation,” she told reporters.
Authorities were scaling back the number of two-man search teams from 24 to 12, while overnight patrols in the town were being beefed up, she said.
Jay Obernolte, mayor of Big Bear Lake community, said residents were not fearful of the events unfolding and that “many of the people here are armed.”
“Is there panic in our community?” Obernolte asked reporters, rhetorically. “No, there is no panic. We’re a hardy people in the San Bernardino Mountains.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said the snowfall slowed some searching done by foot, but police pushed onward.
“The snow is great for tracking folks, as well as looking at each individual cabin to see if there’s any sign of forced entry,” he said.
Navy installations, meanwhile, throughout California and Nevada were on heightened alert, a U.S. military official told CNN.
“Security personnel are on the lookout,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The measure was ordered late Thursday by Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander of the Navy’s southwest region.
The official, who was not authorized to release details to the media, declined to discuss security procedures, but said the move was made after it became clear that Dorner gained access this week to the Naval Base at Point Loma and stayed in a motel there.
Two sailors reported Dorner approached them Wednesday and spoke with them for about 10 minutes. The conversation took place in San Diego at a Coastal Riverine unit — a quick, small boat fighting team — where Dorner served in 2006. As a Navy reservist, Dorner held security jobs at that unit.
The Navy is not certain whether Dorner still possesses any military identification he might try to use to enter a facility. The official said an investigation is under way to determine what military identification he might have.
Investigators said they believe Dorner tried to steal a boat from someone in San Diego, according to the LAPD. Dorner “was not successful, and he fled the location,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said.
Later, a wallet is found containing Dorner’s identification and an LAPD detective’s badge near the San Diego airport, according to police.
There has been speculation among authorities that perhaps Dorner, who is familiar with LAPD policies and procedures, may be trying to lead authorities astray by planting clues.
“He understands the way police departments work: the policies, the procedures, the response times,'” Brandon Webb, a security expert and editor-in-chief of SOFREP.com — the Special Operations Forces Situation Report.
Meanwhile, in La Palma, California, about 22 miles southeast of Los Angeles, police searched Friday the home of Dorner’s mother, where she and a daughter were cooperating with investigators, said Lt. Bill Whalen of the Irvine Police Department.
CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter, AnneClaire Stapleton, Deborah Feyerick, Sara Weisfeldt and Barbara Starr contributed to this report. Paul Vercammen reported from Big Bear Lake and Michael Martinez from Los Angeles.
By Chelsea J. Carter
Michael Martinez and Paul Vercammen
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