POLICE plan to use spy drones in the hunt for a Rambo-style ex-soldier and policeman who has murdered three people and vowed to kill again.They believe burly, heavily-armed Christopher Dorner is holed-up in the wilderness of California’s snow-capped San Bernardino mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
The burnt-out shell of his pick-up truck was discovered in the nearby resort of Big Bear, where residents and tourists have been warned to stay indoors as the search continues.
Yesterday, as a task force of 125 officers, some riding Snowcats in the rugged terrain, continued their search, it was revealed that Dorner has become the first human target for remotely-controlled airborne drones on US soil.
A senior police source said: “The thermal imaging cameras the drones use may be our only hope of finding him. On the ground, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Asked directly if drones have already been deployed, Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, who is jointly leading the task force, said: “We are using all the tools at our disposal.”
The use of drones was later confirmed by Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio, who revealed agents have been prepared for Dorner to make a dash for the Mexican border since his rampage began.
He said: “This agency has been at the forefront of domestic use of drones by law enforcement. That’s all I can say at the moment.”
Dorner, who was fired from the LAPD in 2008 for lying about a fellow officer he accused of misconduct, has vowed to wreak revenge by “killing officers and their families”.
In a chilling, 6,000 word “manifesto” on his Facebook page he has threatened to “bring warfare” to the LAPD and “utilise every bit of small arms training, demolition, ordinance and survival training I’ve been given.”
Dorner, 33, who rose to the rank of lieutenant in the US Navy and served in Iraq before joining the LAPD, also ominously warned that he has shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles to “knock out” any helicopters used to pursue him.
Last night, Brian Levin, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice at Cal State University, San Bernardino, said: “We’re talking about someone who basically perceives that a tremendous injustice has been done to him that took his life and identity.
“Now he is, quite literally, at war.”
Dorner’s rampage began last Sunday when he shot dead Monica Quan, 27, the daughter of a former LAPD captain, and her fiancé Keith Lawrence as they sat in their car outside their home in Irvine, California.
Three days later, he stole a boat at gunpoint from an 81-year-old man at a yacht club in San Diego, near the Mexican border. He abandoned the boat when he could not get its engine to start.
The following day, last Thursday, he was involved in a shoot-out with police in Cornona, 110 miles north of San Diego. The officers, one of whom was wounded, had been guarding one of his intended online targets.
Later that day, in nearby Riverside, he killed one police officer, whose name has not yet been revealed for security reasons, and wounded a second after opening fire on their car at a set of traffic lights.
As the manhunt for him broadened across numerous police jurisdictions, police mistakenly shot and wounded a mother and daughter delivering newspapers in a pick-up truck similar to Dorner’s.
That incident, in the LA suburb of Torrance, was astonishingly followed two hours later by another in the same area, when police again opened fire on a pick-up. This time, there were no casualties. Hours later, Dorner’s actual pick-up truck was found on a forest road near Big Bear City.
“He had torched it,” a San Bernardino police spokesman said. “We assume it may have broken down before he set fire to it.”
Since then, the huge manhunt for Dorner has focused on an area where hundreds of log cabins, both owned and rented out to tourists, are dotted around the mountainside.
“There is a strong possibility he is using an empty or abandoned one as a bolt-hole,” the police spokesman added last night.
LAPD police chief Charlie Beck, who has pleaded on TV with Dorner to surrender, accepted he might be “difficult to find”, adding: “He knows what he is doing. We trained him and he was also a member of the armed forces. It is extremely worrisome and scary.”
Police have also pleaded with local residents not to try to mount a civilian vigilante force or try to aid in the hunt for the fugitive.
However, one Big Bear resident, Dennis Pollock, said: “I did 12 years in the Marine Corps. Give me a sniper rifle, some gear, and point me in his general direction and get out of my way.”
Another local said: “We know every inch of this terrain and could be a real help to the cops, but all they’ve told us to do is stay at home and lock all our doors.”
Last night, America’s National Weather Centre warned that the hunt for Dorner could be further hampered by an expected snowfall of up to 6ins in the mountains. Wind gusts of up to 50mph are also forecast, creating an extreme wind-chill factor in the already freezing conditions.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said: “To be honest, he could be anywhere right now. Torching his own vehicle could have been a diversion to throw us off track. Anything is possible with this man.”