A National City police officer is being recognized for his key role in Christopher Dorner investigation.
Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer-turned-fugitive accused of killing four people during a revenge-fueled crime spree earlier this month, spent time in National City before fleeing to Big Bear, where he would eventually die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a fiery cabin.
Now, the careful police work of local Officer Paul Hernandez has come to light as crucial in linking Dorner to the Feb. 3 murder of Irvine couple Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence – Dorner’s first victims.
After the murder of the couple, officials say Dorner headed to San Diego, passing through National City, where a surveillance camera filmed him throwing a few personal things away in a dumpster behind a store on Feb. 6.
Those discarded items included body armor, bullets, a military belt strap and an LAPD uniform.
That’s where Officer Hernandez’s role in the investigation came into play. With some quick thinking, he was able to put a few of puzzle pieces together.
Hernandez told NBC 7 he was just doing his job when he found the LAPD equipment tossed by Dorner inside that National City dumpster.
The dumpster happened to be near police headquarters.
Hernandez said he had no idea his discovery would start a massive manhunt for an armed and dangerous suspect.
At first, Hernandez thought the LAPD uniform and other equipment had been stolen from someone in the LAPD.
Until, that is, he took a closer look at the evidence.
“They wear similar uniforms to ours, however, they actually say ‘LA Police’ on the buttons. And then [the uniform] had a similar nametag to mine, but it had Dorner's last name on it,” recalled Hernandez.
Dorner’s name – which, at that point, was still unknown to law enforcement and the public, as the manhunt had not yet begun -- was also found on an officer's notebook, as well as Dorner’s serial number.
The name and serial number of Sgt. Teresa Evans was also on the notebook.
Hernandez immediately called Sgt. Evans by phone to ask a few questions.
Evans told Hernandez how she knew Christopher Dorner. In fact, Evans was one of the LAPD officers named in Dorner’s online manifesto, which would be highly-publicized a short time later.
“She had been working under him as a training officer and said that he had gotten terminated several years ago,” said Hernandez.
After their conversation, Evans pointed Irvine police in Dorner’s direction as a possible suspect in the murders of Quan and Lawrence, who had been gunned down in the parking structure of their apartment complex.
From there, police found Dorner’s now-infamous online manifesto, which vowed revenge against LAPD officer and their families.
Many of those LAPD families went into hiding and were under 24/7 police protection while Dorner remained at large.
The international manhunt for Dorner followed, until the fugitive’s death in the Big Bear area on Feb. 12.
But, it was the critical bit of work from Officer Hernandez that helped get the ball rolling -- and may have even saved the lives of more innocent victims.
“I was happy to see that [through] the stuff we had located here in our city, that they were able to link things up and give it to other officers in the field, and hopefully prevent any other incidents from happening,” said Hernandez.
Still, some parts of the Dorner investigation remain a mystery.
National City police still can’t explain why Dorner circled their police department building three times before tossing his items in the dumpster right across the street. They also wonder why Dorner chose to deposit that evidence so close to the police station.