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Brotherly bond united deputies in Dorner manhunt

By Tami Abdollah

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8 2014 7:14 p.m. MST

In this Wednesday, Jan. 15 , 2014 photo shows San Bernandino County Sheriff's Department deputy Det. Alex Collins, 27, during an interview with The Associated Press in San Bernandino, Calif. A year ago this week the Dorner manhunt enveloped the region, but it drew one family of law enforcement officers in closer than others. From the moment Dorner hit the Big Bear Lakes area, the Collins brothers, all deputies for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, were in the thick of it.

Tami Abdollah, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Det. Alex Collins was speeding down a mountain road, closing in on ex-cop-turned-killer Christopher Dorner and his phone was buzzing.

In rapid succession, his two brothers — also San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies — called to warn the baby of the family to be careful. Dorner, a former Los Angeles policeman, vowed to kill as many officers as possible to avenge his firing from the department.

A few nights earlier, the brothers discussed Dorner's chilling online manifesto and the risk of encountering him. "We had no delusions," Sgt. Ryan Collins said. "It was not going to end well for whatever deputy it was who found him."

When Ryan heard a dispatch last Feb. 12 that officers had been shot, he frantically tried calling Alex again and again. The phone was dead.

For the swarms of police who hunted Dorner last year, the manhunt was more than just a matter of public safety — it was personal; he was targeting their brethren. For the Collins brothers, however, it was even more so.

Dorner, 33, was wanted in the Feb. 3 murder of the daughter of a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain and her fiance in Orange County. Dorner said the former captain had poorly represented him before the discipline board that recommended his firing.

In a rambling rant on Facebook, Dorner, who was black, also complained about racism at the LAPD, and vowed to unleash "unconventional and asymmetrical warfare" against those who wronged him and their families.

On Feb. 7, he opened fire on an LAPD cruiser, grazing an officer sent to guard one of his targets. Later, he ambushed a Riverside patrol car, killing one officer and seriously wounding another, police said. Then, he disappeared.

Ryan Collins, now 39, had briefed officers in Big Bear Lake, in the snowy San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, to be on the lookout for Dorner. It seemed trouble elsewhere had a way of rippling into the ski resort town.

Sure enough, hours later Collins went to investigate a report of a car fire, and discovered Dorner's smoldering pickup. Collins said he and another deputy eyed each other, faces white as ghosts. Dorner was on their mountain.

"We knew there was probably a good chance we were in somebody's crosshairs," he said.

As Ryan helped coordinate the manhunt, Det. Matt Collins, now 37, hiked through a snowstorm with other SWAT members to search hundreds of cabins looking for footsteps or anything suspicious.

Their little brother, Alex, joined in the search, too, coming back early from leave after his wife, Lila, gave birth to their first child, Benjamin, some three weeks earlier.

Everyone figured it was only a matter of time before Dorner emerged.

The call came after noon on the sixth day of the mountain search: "We've been tied up by Dorner," a woman told the 911 dispatcher. "He's taken off with our Nissan Rogue."

Karen Reynolds and her husband Jim had gone to check on the condo they rent to guests and were surprised by the hulking Dorner who bound, blindfolded and gagged them.

Alex Collins and his partner Det. Jeremy King followed a hunch he would take the back road off the mountain. As they sped there, they got word that Dorner had carjacked a white pickup, had shot at game wardens and was headed down a side road near boarded-up summer cabins.

Matt was racing to the scene a few minutes behind Alex while Ryan helped the Reynoldses. Both brothers called Alex, knowing he was nearest to Dorner.

Be careful. Don't go in alone. Wait for us, for SWAT, to get there.

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