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updated: 2/12/2013 3:26 PM

Life imitates film in story of vengeful LA ex-cop

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  • Commuters on Santa Monica Boulevard on the Westside of Los Angeles see a digital billboard displaying a large "wanted" poster for former Los Angeles police Officer Christopher Dorner. Dorner is suspected in a spree of violence as part of a vendetta against law enforcement after being fired by the department. Dorner's alleged killing spree hasn't just terrorized a large section of the country -- it has captured people's imagination and attention.

      Commuters on Santa Monica Boulevard on the Westside of Los Angeles see a digital billboard displaying a large "wanted" poster for former Los Angeles police Officer Christopher Dorner. Dorner is suspected in a spree of violence as part of a vendetta against law enforcement after being fired by the department. Dorner's alleged killing spree hasn't just terrorized a large section of the country -- it has captured people's imagination and attention.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- It sounds like the plot line to a movie: He's a former LA cop on a violent, rage-filled rampage who will stop at nothing for revenge.

Instead, police say, it is the latest real-life crime story to grip Southern California, a place where fiction frequently blurs with reality and pop culture often plays larger than the truth. Christopher Dorner's alleged killing spree hasn't just terrorized a section of the country -- it has captured people's imagination and attention.

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As of Monday, the triple-murder suspect had more than 70 Facebook fan pages, some of them with thousands of likes. Many people were going on those pages to call him an American hero, a man of true conviction who is fighting for his beliefs. Others praised him for attempting to fight injustice and racism "by any means necessary," quoting the expression popularized by Malcolm X during the 1960s Black Power movement.

Even Charlie Sheen asked the missing suspect to give him a call.

"Let's figure out together how to end this thing," the star of the TV series "Anger Management" says in a 17-second video posted on the website TMZ.com in which he also thanks Dorner for praising him as an actor.

Dorner's shoutout to Sheen, "You're effin awesome," came in a long, rambling manifesto the former cop allegedly posted online in which he accused the Los Angeles Police Department of wrongly firing him, railed against racism and other abuses, and weighed in on his favorite movies and celebrities.

He also vowed vengeance against the police officers he believes wronged him and ruined his reputation. So far, authorities say, he has carried out that threat, killing a Riverside police officer, attempting to kill three other police officers and killing the daughter of a former LA police captain and her fiance.

And then, just like a scene out of a movie, he vanished Rambo-like, presumably into the deep snow of a sprawling national forest 90 miles east of Los Angeles. Authorities found his burned-out car with weapons inside last week but, so far, no trace of him despite a search coordinated by the FBI, LAPD and other police agencies.

"My first thought was this is the stuff movies are made of," said Karen North, a social media expert at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School. But then her second thought, North said, was that unlike the anti-heroes played to such great effect by Sylvester Stallone in the "Rambo" movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Running Man," Dorner has no redeeming qualities.

"He's killed people who are real people with real families and real friends, and he's terrorized entire communities," she said.

His ability to so far elude one of the largest manhunts in memory, however, has quickly elevated Dorner to folk-hero status among some.

"People, especially Americans, like to identify with anti-heroes and underdogs, and if you take away the fact that he has killed innocent people, people identify with his messages," North said of Dorner's online rants against racism, injustice and police brutality.

In that way, she said, some will identify him with popular outlaws of the past like Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"But when we do this, we often forget that these people are creating heartbreak for the individuals' lives they affect," North continued.

Dorner's manifesto rambles on for more than 10,000 words, spending much of the first half accusing Los Angeles police of wrongly firing him, destroying his reputation and leaving him with no choice but to kill people to bring those actions to the public's attention and restore his name. He also tells of enduring racist taunts during much of his school years, when he says he was often the only black student in his classes.

In the second half, the ex-cop addresses numerous celebrities, including Sheen.

Dorner, who has said he expects to die in a violent confrontation with police, laments that he likely won't live to see the third ""Hangover" movie. He also advises director Todd Phillips to end the franchise after that film and not cheapen it by milking it for more sequels. He sides with Larry David's character in an episode of the TV comedy "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which David's black friends tell him white people keep their homes too cold at night.

He also heaps praise on Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Cosby.

Except for Sheen, the celebrities have chosen to ignore him.

However Dorner's saga ends, North speculated, society will eventually do the same.

"We will look back on this not as somebody with a great cause who called attention to it in a bad way," she said. "This is somebody who created terrible heartbreak."

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