BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. – As investigators piece together the details of the violent last stand in Big Bear Tuesday night, the process begins of identifying a body found in the burned rubble.
“We won’t speculate at this point whether that was Christopher Dorner or not,” said LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman.
“He may be burned beyond recognition, but not past identification,” said Dr. Glenn Wagner, Chief Medical Examiner for San Diego County.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office process some 900 bodies a month. Wagner said the process of positive identification involves several factors.
“The pathologist will do full examination and it will be with the assistance of an anthropologist and a dentist,” said Wagner.
Dr. Wagner said the fastest method is dental records, provided you have them.
“Everybody in military has dental and DNA records and they’re kept for some 50 years,” said Wagner.
“It depends on how much burning has been going on,” said Dr. Skip Sperber, a forensic dentist.
Sperber worked with the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office for 35 years. Currently, conducts dental identification with the San Diego Police Department as a volunteer. Sperber said in the case of the body in Big Bear, the forensic team may not have teeth to work with.
“Sometimes the crown, the white parts we see are totally destroyed,” explained Dr. Sperber. “Sometimes we have to use the bone that surrounds the teeth that we have on x-rays.”
If dental records are not useful, examiners will likely turn to anthropology. Wagner said there’s much to be learned from a person’s bones.
“You can examine the skeletal remains and looking at the vertebral column they can say this is a person in this age range,” said Wagner.
From the bones, pathologists can also extract DNA and other information.
For now, the condition of the recovered body is unclear. Until it’s confirmed as Christopher Dorner, the LAPD said they will not rest.
“When your life and the lives of your family are placed in jeopardy and placed in fear that’s quite something to deal with,” said Lt. Neiman.
As of Wedesday, the LAPD has removed the tactical alert, but about a dozen protective details on families targeted will continue.