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National cable news networks broke into programming Tuesday and went live with a dramatic gun battle in Southern California between police and a man believed to be fugitive triple-murder suspect Christopher Dorner.
CNN, MSNBC and Fox News were tracking the story. Helicopters showed images of the area near Big Bear Lake, though not the gunfight. Some media websites, however, were airing live audio of the battle from local Los Angeles radio. Shortly after 1 p.m., CBS News correspondent Carter Evans was reporting from the scene on the ground on KNX-AM when the shootout began, and listeners could hear multiple weapons firing, some screaming and much yelling amid the chaos.
The live audio included several uncensored uses of the f-word — including on the web feed of the local CBS TV affiliates KCBS and KCAL, as well as on KNX. CBS has taken recent flak for the word coming up during its Grammy and Super Bowl broadcasts. Anchors repeatedly apologized for the obscenities.
Authorities later ordered media organizations to turn off their cameras and refrain from tweeting from the scene to avoid giving away officers’ positions or any other information about what assets are being deployed to the area. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer told viewers that his network was complying.
After several hours of quiet following the gunfight, authorities fired at least three canisters of tear gas into the cabin where the suspect was holed up, and by 4:30 p.m. PT the structure was engulfed in flames. By then, the cable news nets resumed airing live aerial footage of the area. Activity around the site slowed as the cabin burned. By 6 p.m. PT, the networks had switched to live coverage of the State of the Union Address.
At about 6:40 p.m., CBS senior correspondent John Miller reported that a law-enforcement source told him that a body “believed to be that of ex-LAPD officer Chris Dorner” had been removed from the cabin. But during a news conference at 8 p.m. PT, LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith denied that a body had been recovered, saying the burned-out cabin because it was “still too hot,” and said the department remained on tactical alert.
And authorities had not confirmed that the man they battled was Dorner.
Hundreds of rounds were fired during the half-hour battle. Two San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies were wounded and airlifted to Loma Linda Medical Center, where one later died. Authorities said the second deputy was in surgery and “expected to be fine.”
The incident reportedly began when two female housekeepers entered a cabin and were confronted by a man matching Dorner’s description. He tied them up and held them hostage before fleeing in their car. The man reportedly wrecked that vehicle then carjacked another. He then abandoned it and entered the unoccupied cabin where the gunfight took place.
Police later chased a vehicle on Highway 38 until the driver stopped at Glass Road and fled on foot into the forest. He then entered a cabin in the community of Angelus Oaks, about eight miles southwest of Big Bear, and the gunfight broke out soon thereafter. At one point the suspect set off a smoke bomb in an attempt to escape out the cabin’s back door, but authorities say he retreated into the house.
National media outlets have covered the story as Dorner, 33, has evaded an exhaustive manhunt since Feb. 6, when he was named as the suspect — and later formally charged — in the killings of a young couple in Irvine and a Riverside police officer.
The chilling images and audio brought to mind a pair of infamous Southern California shootouts that played out on live TV. In 1997, two men clad in head-to-toe body armor and wielding automatic weapons robbed a bank in North Hollywood then engaged in a 44-minute shootout with police. Several officers and civilians were wounded, and both robbers died in the melee.
In May 1974, Los Angeles police acting on a tip surrounded the hideout of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a radical revolutionary group that had kidnapped publishing heiress Patty Hearst three months earlier. A massive gunfight began when police threw tear gas into the house and were answered with automatic-weapons fire. Two hours and thousands of rounds into the battle, the house caught fire. After the shooting stopped and the fire was extinguished, police found four SLA members dead and took several other people into custody. No officers were injured.
Michael O’Connell contributed to this report.
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