Longtime Weekly readers recall "Homegirl Arrissia" Owen from her multiple appearances in Commie Girl, serving as the Robin to the Batman of that former column, Rebecca Schoenkopf (now fighting crime as Wonkette). Owen continues to contribute to the Weekly from her home in Big Bear--the closest home occupied full-time to where fugitive triple-homicide suspect Chris Dorner's burned truck was found last week. The journalist even popped up on the KCBS/Channel 2 news last night ("That was weird," Owen notes). She graciously agreed to share with our readers what life has been like up in the mountains lately.
By Arrissia Owen
I thought I was in for a real treat. "Take the baby and go into town for a couple of hours for a long lunch," my boyfriend Jeff was saying on the other end of the phone line. "I'll buy."
Something certainly seemed strange. I explained that I didn't really have time for a leisurely lunch in the village; that's what we call the quaint little shopping and restaurant area in downtown Big Bear Lake. I thanked him kindly. But he insisted.
Then, very calmly, he explained why. The manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the man who was suspected of killing an Irvine couple two days prior and a police officer in the early-morning hours of that day, had moved to Big Bear.
And not just Big Bear, in general, but specifically walking distance from our house in Big Bear. Geographically, we were the closest full-time residents to where Dorner's truck was found. And I was home alone with a toddler with the doors unlocked.
I thought Jeff was trying to screw with me because I had very animatedly told him all about the Dorner events that morning over breakfast. I got off the phone and immediately emailed my former editor at the local newspaper, the Big Bear Grizzly. "Did you hear anything about a burning truck in the forest near my house?" I asked. "Something about a man who murdered some people and killed a cop?"
At that same moment, my house started to shake from a helicopter that I could very clearly see outside my kitchen window. I started moving so fast my brain couldn't even keep up with what I was trying to do. I locked the doors. I slowed down and washed my face and tried to wrap my head around what was happening.
Then there was a loud knock at the door, and I nearly pissed my pants. I grabbed my 16-month-old son, ran into the bedroom and locked the door. My heart was thumping so hard I could hear it, like a scream about to escape my chest. Then I realized that my bedroom has glass French doors that go out to the deck, which wraps around to the front door.
I crept outside to try and see what was happening, and it turned out to be Jeff, who had been driving to the house anyway to make sure I vacated. He swept up our son, yelled at me to get in the car, and within seconds, I was driving out of the neighborhood, our peaceful, unbelievably serene alpine neighborhood that backs up to Forest Service Road 2N10, where Dorner's truck was found.
As I was leaving my neighborhood, I let my only two neighbors within two blocks know what was going on. One was outside working on her deck as unmarked police cars with small blue and red lights whizzed by, doing about 50 mph on a road that usually clocks about 15 tops. They were clueless.
Within minutes, I was at my 10-year-old daughter's school to pull her out before an inevitable lockdown occurred. I had no idea what to do or where to go, but I knew I wanted her with me when I decided what that would be. I didn't want her near any sort of impromptu asymmetrical warfare.
The school secretary acted as though I were a little nutty. No one was wise to the seriousness of what was going on. We headed to the park and sat until Facebook caught up with us. Word started spreading fast, and people in Big Bear collectively started freaking the fuck out looking for information to confirm that what was happening was actually happening.
It took about an hour before Dorner's trip to Big Bear was reported in the media. Reporters have to confirm things. Facebook does not.
My friend Andrea reached out and invited us over to her house near the lake. When the location of the truck started to make the grapevine, my phone started to explode. The schools were all on lockdown shortly after. Big Bear quickly started to feel like a ghost town.
We hunkered down and watched the news nonstop, trying to get some sort of clue as to what the heck to do. It became clear I was not going home soon. I canceled my phone interview with the Irish punk band Flogging Molly--the old "manhunt in the mountains" excuse. I just could not pull it together for that.
Lucky for us, Andrea and her husband, Josh, are in the lodging biz (shout out to Sleepy Forest Cottages in Big Bear Lake!), and they were gracious enough to put us up for the night in one of their cabins.
Jeff stayed at work all day at Snow Summit, where he works on Ski Patrol. Both resorts stayed open until late afternoon, when Bear closed early and Snow Summit closed the east side of its runs. People kept snowboarding a little to the west as though there was not a war going on slopeside.
That shocked me. The schools were on lockdown, armored vehicles in the forest, everything scheduled seemed to be canceled, the Girl Scouts weren't selling cookies in front of the grocery stores--but we were worried about tourism. Big Bear is always worried about tourism.
No one quite knew how much to panic, how far the precautions should reach, even though SWAT team members were spreading around the neighborhood like ants.
The lower parking lot at Bear Mountain Resort transformed into a command center for emergency personnel and media. The sheer number of news outlets with trucks and satellites perched on top was amazing, as though they were camped outside the Oscars waiting for a glimpse of Naomi Watts.
Jeff went home that night to grab some clothes and provisions. In the 15 minutes he was home, police came to the door twice with guns drawn. They were canvassing our neighborhood, combing it with a fine-toothed comb, except they were lost. They had a map that had every street name wrong.
Back at Andrea's, I overheard my daughter calling her friend who had remained at school. "So, how was lockdown?" she asked nonchalantly while working a Wii controller. The kids just didn't get it.
That night, the snow arrived, which made everyone sure Dorner was no longer in our vicinity, could not survive the storm even if he was, or more afraid than ever because the 500 officers marching into our forest resembling Storm Troopers would have a harder time than ever finding him.
The theories were flying. Everyone became military, cop-killer, survivalist experts. During one of the day's press conferences, our mayor, Jay Obernolte, cautioned the gun-toting locals on national TV to not go out looking for justice on their own. "Great," was all I could think. "Now we're that town." We're always thinking about tourism.
By 3 p.m., I was ready to go home. But strangely enough, I couldn't get in because we locked the door. I don't even have a key. Many people in Big Bear don't lock their doors. It's that kind of place. Or at least it was.
The next morning, I ran into my friend Misty, who has a house-cleaning business. The majority of her roster is vacation rentals, and part of her job is opening cabins before guests arrive.
That morning, Misty had about 10 houses to open in my neighborhood. She was going in unaccompanied, crossing yellow caution tape, and she was a nervous wreck. By the time I saw her, she was in tears and shaking. Her nerves were shot.
The tourists were coming, for better or worse.
By the time I made it to the command center, I realized I couldn't even get home because the city had not plowed my neighborhood. How weird is that? They didn't even plow the SEARCH AREA. Where I live, we get, on average, a third more snow than just around the corner. We are above the base of Bear Mountain, at a higher altitude than most homes in the area.
As I walked around the parking lot of the command center, the SWAT-style officers who had been out in the forest started piling out of snowcats, some driven by people I know. Snowcats are very-square, enclosed-cab vehicles that are fully tracked and can move on snow. They are used to help groom ski trails--or catch murderers, apparently.
I followed my dog around as he looked for a place to pee while the snow came down sideways, creating nearly white-out conditions. The officers stood with their semi-automatic rifles at attention, joking about how they were not going to find their cars under all the snow. It's very strange to hear armed men--who had just returned thankfully from our own little Afghanistan in the forest--cracking jokes. The consensus around the parking lot was that nobody had any clue whether Dorner was actually out there. But it was the best lead they had.
I left my small SUV behind and made my way home. The next day, life inside our homey walls was starting to resemble some normalcy until there was a knock at the door that again snapped any sort of serenity. There were those SWAT guys again, with guns drawn, hanging out in my driveway.
A sheriff's deputy was at the door, wanting to know if I had seen anything suspicious in the neighborhood. The shaking started again. Then a snowcat full of more SWAT officers flipped a u-turn in my driveway as helicopters swarmed overhead. My peaceful neighborhood looked like a war zone. Jeff was still at work.
As things were getting back to normal Sunday, a KCAL/KCBS news van pulled up in front of my house, and the reporter asked for an interview. I obliged. As a reporter myself, I have been on the other end of that job too much with uncooperative witnesses or community members.
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I met a woman visiting from Huntington Beach on Sunday. I asked her if she thought twice about coming up to Big Bear during all this manhunt stuff. "Nah," she said. "There are psychotic people in Orange County, too. My odds are better here. And I get to ski."
Most people had let down their guard by midday. Ski lessons were back on. The Girl Scouts were selling cookies. And Dorner was nowhere to be seen.
The police announced a $1 million reward for anyone who gives information that leads to Dorner's capture. You hear that, gun-toting locals? Great.