Search for fugitive ex-cop sets California region on edge
IRVINE, Calif. -- A heavy police presence sectioned off a block of homes in a quiet Southern California suburb Sunday, as residents adjusted to life at the center of a sprawling manhunt for a fugitive whose police and military background and vitriolic online manifesto has put the region on high-alert.
Joe Palacio lives down the street from a home surrounded by authorities protecting a police captain mentioned as a target in Christopher Dorner's Facebook rant against those he held responsible for his dismissal from the LAPD five years ago.
Dorner, 33, is suspected of killing three people, including one police officer, and as the manhunt entered its fourth day with no success, authorities posted a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture.
After days of anxiety, the fact that Dorner was still a fugitive caused concern among some living in the upscale, planned community -- and downright fear among others.
"If he did come around this corner, what could happen? We're in the crossfire, with the cops right there,'' said Palacio, who lives on the street corner being guarded by a black-and-white cruiser.
"I do think about where I would put my family,'' he said. "Would we call 911? Would we hide in the closet?''
The upscale neighborhood has been flooded with authorities since Wednesday, with police helicopters at one point circling neighborhoods and cruisers staking out schools. Some have responded by keeping their children home. Others no longer walk their dogs at night.
Dorner's background added to the worry. The former LAPD officer also served in the Navy, earning a rifle marksman ribbon and a pistol expert medal. He was assigned to a naval undersea warfare unit and various aviation training units, according to military records.
In his online manifesto, Dorner vowed to use "every bit of small arms training, demolition, ordnance and survival training I've been given'' to bring "warfare'' to the LAPD and its families.
As tense Irvine residents tried to go on with their lives, police investigated a taunting phone call to the father of the woman they believe Dorner killed last week.
Two law enforcement officers who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation told The Associated Press they are trying to determine if Dorner made the call telling retired police Capt. Randal Quan that he should have done a better job protecting his daughter.
The bodies of Monica Quan and her fiancé were found Feb. 3 in Irvine, setting off what would become a wave of fear. They had been shot.
Things escalated early Thursday morning, when police say Dorner got into a shootout with an LAPD officer in Corona, grazing an officer's head with a bullet before escaping. Police believe he then used a rifle to ambush two Riverside police officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. A funeral for Officer Michael Crain, an 11-year veteran, was scheduled for Wednesday.
About 65 miles away, the manhunt continued in the San Bernardino mountains near the ski resort town of Big Bear, where authorities found Dorner's burned out pickup truck Thursday. Police have since announced discovering weapons and camping gear inside the vehicle.
The search scaled down as the weekend went on, but a helicopter with heat-seeking technology scanned the area as two-dozen officers went door-to-door to search about 600 cabins.
With Dorner still on the loose and little apparent evidence pointing to his whereabouts, police offered a $1 million reward.
"We will not tolerate this reign of terror,'' said LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Meanwhile, worrisome questions emerged: How long could the intense search be sustained? And, if Dorner counties to evade capture, how do authorities protect dozens of former police colleagues whom he has publicly targeted?
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith characterized the protection detail provided to people Dorner has targeted as intensive. The department has deployed 50 protection details to guard officers and their families who are deemed targets in Dorner's manifesto, he said.
"It can't be one guy with a gun in a living room,'' Smith said.
The department, however, is looking for ways to economize if the search for Dorner stretches on, whether it's reducing the numbers of officers assigned to the targets or something else, he said.
There were no plans to reduce protections until Dorner was in custody, said Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez.
As long as Dorner's whereabouts are unknown, the police department must provide protection to those named in his rant, said Chuck Drago, a Florida-based police consultant.
If the search drags into weeks and months, the LAPD will likely find secret safe houses for the targeted individuals, much as they would for witness protection participants, instead of posting officers outside their homes nonstop, he said.
"We realize it costs money and it gets expensive, but this is as clear of a threat as you can get,'' Drago said. "We know that if he's able to get to these targets then he's probably able to hurt them. The money is always an issue but not when it's somebody's life at stake.''
LAPD remains on modified tactical alert, responding only to priority calls and not to those for lesser issues such as public intoxication or business disputes.
Authorities Sunday morning had six cars protecting Capt. Phil Tingirides, who chaired a disciplinary panel that stripped Dorner of his badge. Black and white police cruisers were posted on each end of his street and four more were parked outside his home.
At least a half-dozen officers were visibly standing guard.
Associated Press writer Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles contributed.