BIG BEAR LAKE, -- Karen and Jim Reynolds say they came face to face with fugitive Christopher Dorner, not up on a snow-covered mountain trail, but inside their cabin-style condo.
During a 15-minute ordeal just a stone's throw from a command post authorities set up in the manhunt for the ex-Los Angeles police officer, the couple said, Dorner bound them and put pillowcases on their heads. At one point, he explained that he had been in their condo over the previous days.
"He said 'I don't have a problem with you, so I'm not going to hurt you,'" Jim Reynolds said. "I didn't believe him; I thought he was going to kill us."
Police have not commented on the Reynolds' account, but it renews questions about the thoroughness of a search for a man who authorities declared was extremely armed and dangerous as they hunted him across the Southwest and Mexico.
"They said they went door-to-door but then he's right there under their noses. Makes you wonder if the police even knew what they were doing," said Shannon Schroepfer, who lives near the Reynolds' cabin. "He was probably sitting there laughing at them the whole time."
The search for Dorner began last week after authorities said he had launched a deadly campaign of revenge against the Los Angeles Police Department for his firing, warning that he would bring "warfare" to LAPD officers and their families.
The manhunt brought police to Big Bear Lake, a resort town about 80 miles east of Los Angeles where they found Dorner's burned-out pickup truck abandoned. At some point, heavily armed officers lost his trail.
But the fact that police did not find him -- even though he may have been just across the street -- was shocking to many, but not totally surprising to some experts familiar with the complications of such a manhunt.
"Chilling. That's the only word I could use for that," said Ed Tatosian, a retired SWAT commander for the Sacramento Police Department. "It's not an unfathomable oversight. We're human. It happens. It's chilling (that) it does happen."
Law enforcement officers, who had gathered outside daily for briefings, were stunned by the revelation. One official later looking on Google Earth exclaimed that he'd parked right across the street from the Reynolds' cabin each day.
The Reynolds said Dorner was upstairs in their rental condo Tuesday when they arrived to clean it to rent to vacationers. Dorner, who at the time was being sought for three killings, confronted the Reynolds with a drawn gun, "jumped out and hollered 'stay calm,'" Jim Reynolds said during a Wednesday night news conference.
His wife screamed and ran downstairs but Dorner caught her, Reynolds said. The couple said they were taken to a bedroom where he ordered them to lie on a bed and then on the floor. Dorner bound their arms and legs with plastic ties, gagged them with towels and covered their heads with pillowcases, they said.
"I really thought it could be the end," Karen Reynolds said.
The couple believes Dorner had been staying in the cabin at least since Friday. Dorner told them he had been watching them by day from inside the cabin as they did work outside. The couple, who live nearby, only entered the unit Tuesday. "He said we are very hard workers," Karen Reynolds said.
After he fled in their purple Nissan, she managed to call 911 from a cellphone on the coffee table. Police said Dorner later killed a sheriff's deputy during a standoff, and died inside a burning cabin where he had sought refuge.
While authorities have not corroborated the couple's account, it matched early reports from law enforcement officials that a couple had been tied up and their car stolen by a man resembling Dorner. Property records showed the Reynolds as the condo's owners.
As police await confirmation that the body found inside the cabin was Dorner's, questions fester about how one of the largest manhunts in years could have missed him.
After finding his burned-out pickup last Thursday, San Bernardino Sheriff's Department officials said deputies went door to door to search roughly 600 cabins for forced entry. Many of the cabins were boarded-up vacation homes.
Authorities said officers looked for signs that someone had forcibly entered the buildings, or that heat was on inside in a cabin that otherwise looked uninhabited.
SWAT officers had been ferried out of the lot near the Reynolds' condo during a Friday snowstorm, and through the weekend they stood outside in plain view from the cabin, gearing up in helmets, bulletproof vests, with assault weapons at the ready.
According to the Reynolds, the cabin had cable TV, and a second-story view that would have allowed him to see choppers flying in and out.
Timothy Clemente, a retired FBI SWAT team leader, said searchers had to work methodically. When there's a hot pursuit, they can run after a suspect into a building. But in a manhunt, the search has to slow down. "You can't just kick in every door," he said. Police have to have a reason to enter a building.
Officers would have been approaching each cabin, rock and tree with the prospect that Dorner was behind and waiting for them with a weapon that could penetrate bulletproof vests. In his manifesto posted online, Dorner, a former Navy reservist, said he had no fear of losing his life and would wage "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" and warned officers "you will now live the life of the prey."
Even peering through windows can tactically be difficult with glare that requires officers to remove their hands off a weapon to gain a view inside. Experts said it is likely officers may have used binoculars to help examine homes from a distance, especially when dealing with a man who had already killed three people, including a police officer.
In many cases officers didn't even knock on the door, according to searchers. "Going and knocking on the door, if Chris Dorner's on the other side of the door, what would the response be? A .50 caliber round or .223 round straight through that door," Clemente said.
Abdollah reported from Los Angeles.