After nearly 24 hours of wondering and pondering, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said in a press conference on Tuesday night that the manhunt for the fugitive ex-cop Chris Dorner is over. McMahon stopped short, however, of admitting that law enforcement officials found Dorner's body in the burnt out cabin in the Big Bear Mountains area outside of Los Angeles. "We cannot positively confirm it's him," he said. "We are not currently involved in a manhunt any longer. We are trying to confirm [the remains are Dorner's] through forensics and should know soon." In other words, as many expected on Tuesday night, police found a body; it's probably Dorner's; but they're being very cautious about giving final confirmation.
Good for them. We live in a twisted age of real-time news when, in the span of just a few minutes, a person can be declared alive then dead then alive again with nothing but a series of misplaced tweets. We saw it happen with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, when NPR reported that Giffords had died from a gunshot wound to the head when she had in fact miraculously survived the attack. Nevertheless, half of the nation's major news outlets in the country had relayed the sad, false news about Giffords' death. The Poynter Institute said a year later that the false reports "still reverberate for the press." Funnily enough, the press is still struggling with real-time fact-checking in fast-moving breaking news stories. Before the smoke from the burning cabin stopped billowing into the sky, myriad reports circulated that Dorner's body was inside, only to get debunked by the LAPD police chief in a press conference a few hours later. They found a body but couldn't confirm that it was Dorner's.
Here's what we definitely know. Sheriff McMahon said in Wednesday night's press conference that police did not purposefully set the cabin where Dorner was hiding on fire. This, despite reports of a conversation over a police scanner when somebody said, "All right, Steve, we're gonna go, er, we're gonna go forward with the plan, with, er, with the burn [or burner]." McMahon also confirmed that the manhunt had been called off. Two officers were shot in the standoff, one of them fatally. His name was Jeremiah MacCay. A wallet with Dorner's ID was found either with the body in the burnt out cabin or at an airport in San Diego. And from there, things only get more confusing. The Atlantic Wire's Alexander Abad-Santos offered up a great take on the lingering questions on Wednesday afternoon.
It'll take a few days before the police and the press sort out the details of the dramatic series of days that were the Chris Dorner manhut. But for now, sleep easy. The manhunt is over. The search for the truth is really just beginning, though.