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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.

The 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 the fortress that is the 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 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.

In the note, 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 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 many people’s view, was long ago swept aside.

The 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.