LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Authorities in California launched a manhunt on Thursday for a fired Los Angeles policeman suspected of gunning down five people, killing three, and declaring an all-out war on police officers and their families in a rambling Internet manifesto.
The violence began with the weekend slayings of a campus safety officer and his fiancée, who was the daughter of a retired Los Angeles police captain who represented the accused gunman in disciplinary proceedings. The suspect blames the retired captain for his dismissal from the force.
The investigation widened in scope and urgency earlier this week when police learned that the suspect in that shooting, Christopher Dorner, 33, had posted an online declaration of grievances and threats which they have interpreted as a potential hit list.
“This is a vendetta against all of Southern California law enforcement and it should be seen as such,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters.
“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,” he added.
The search for the suspect stretched from San Diego, where Dorner was believed to have tried to steal a boat on Wednesday night, to the San Bernardino mountains northeast of Los Angeles.
Police descended on a ski area around the resort community of Big Bear Lake after a truck matching a description of the suspect’s getaway vehicle was found burning in the snow. Nearby schools and other facilities were placed on a security lockdown as a precaution.
Police had closed in on Dorner earlier on Thursday when two Los Angeles police officers assigned to a security detail exchanged gunfire with him in the city of Corona, leaving one of the officers grazed in the head by a bullet, police officials said.
Two other officers were ambushed, with one killed, about 20 minutes later while sitting in their patrol car at a traffic light in the adjacent town of Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
The officer who died was an 11-year veteran of the Riverside police force. His partner was severely wounded but is expected to fully recover, the police said.
Dorner, who was fired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2008 after more than three years as an officer, was presumed to be armed with multiple weapons, including an assault rifle.
‘HUNTING’ FOR POLICE OFFICERS
LAPD’s Beck said the threats contained in Dorner’s rambling, multi-page manifesto posted to Facebook had prompted police to dispatch more than 40 security details to protect people thought to be in danger of attack.
At a separate news conference, Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz said he hoped Dorner could be captured without further bloodshed, but warned that he was mobile and extremely dangerous.
“This is a somewhat unprecedented, or at least rare occurrence - a trained, heavily armed person who is hunting for police officers,” he said.
The manifesto, quoted by various news media on Thursday, appeared to have been removed from the social network site, but Los Angeles television station KTLA posted a full copy of the document on its website.
“The violence of action will be high. ... I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty,” Dorner wrote. “The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence.”
Although the online declaration expressed anger over his dismissal, there was no immediate explanation for the time lag between his 2008 termination and this week’s events.
Dorner first came to the public’s attention on Wednesday when he was named as a suspect in the weekend slayings of Monica Quan, an assistant basketball coach at California State University Fullerton, and her fiancé, Keith Lawrence, a University of Southern California public safety officer.
Quan’s father, retired LAPD Captain Randy Quan, had represented Dorner in disciplinary hearings that led to his termination from the department for making false statements, police said.
“I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, I‘m terminating yours,” he wrote in a portion of his manifesto addressed to the senior Quan.
Dorner was said to be driving a dark gray pickup truck on Thursday, after what police believe was an aborted attempt Wednesday night to steal a boat from a yacht club in San Diego.
The California Highway Patrol issued an alert on Dorner to law enforcement throughout the state after the Riverside shootings. Los Angeles police placed officers on a tactical alert and grounded all motorcycle patrols as a precaution, a police spokeswoman said.
The manhunt also led to the wounding of two female bystanders by police before dawn in Torrance, just south of Los Angeles, where officers on a security detail opened fire on a pickup truck resembling the one Dorner was thought to be driving, Beck said.
He said the truck was being driven with its headlights out.
One victim suffered a minor gunshot wound and the second was listed in stable condition with two gunshot wounds.
“Tragically, we believe this was a case of mistaken identity by the Los Angeles police officers,” Beck added.
Additional reporting by Dana Feldman, Brandon Lowrey and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles, Marty Graham in San Diego and Daniel Trotta in New York, writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Alden Bentley, Dan Grebler, Steve Orlofsky, Leslie Gevirtz, Cynthia Johnston, Philip Barbara, G Crosse