BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. - Karen and Jim Reynolds say they came face to face with fugitive Christopher Dorner, not 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 had set up in the massive 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 there for 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 armed and extremely 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," resident Shannon Schroepfer said. "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 revenge campaign 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, 80 miles east of Los Angeles, where they found Dorner's burned-out pickup truck abandoned. His footprints disappeared on frozen soil and hundreds of officers who searched the area and checked out each building failed to find him.
The notion of him holed up just across the street from the command post 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 the rental unit Tuesday when they arrived to ready it for 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.
"I really thought it could be the end," Karen Reynolds said.
The couple believes Dorner had been staying in the cabin at least since Feb. 8, the day after his burned truck was found nearby. 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 Rogue, she managed to call 911 from a cellphone on the coffee table. Police said Dorner later killed a fourth person, a sheriff's deputy, during a standoff, and died inside the burning cabin where he took cover during a blazing shootout.
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 coroners work to confirm that the body found inside the cabin was Dorner, the San Bernardino County sheriff has refused to answer questions about how one of the largest manhunts in years could have missed him.
During the search, heavily armed deputies went door to door to search roughly 600 cabins for forced entry. Many of the cabins were boarded-up summer 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.
Helicopters had landed SWAT officers in a lot near the Reynolds' condo, and through the weekend they stood 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 who was part of the search for Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, 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 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 be difficult because officers have to remove a hand from their weapons to shade their eyes. 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 doors, according to searchers and residents.
"If Chris Dorner's on the other side of the door, what would the response be?" Clemente said. "A .50 caliber round or .223 round straight through that door."