Feb. 14, 2013— -- Jim and Karen Reynolds had every reason to be afraid. On Tuesday, they were taken hostage in their own home by the most hunted man in America, Christopher Dorner, a fugitive ex-cop who had already killed three people and pledged to kill dozens more.
The couple surprised him, coming home to their cabin high in the San Bernadino Mountains near the resort town of Big Bear, Calif., where he had hidden from cops for five days.
He carried a semi-automatic rifle, tied their wrists and placed pillow cases over their heads.
"I thought we were dead," Jim Reynolds said.
By the end of the day, the man believed to be Dorner would kill a fourth victim, another cop and die himself in a dramatic standoff with authorities.
But the gunman spared the lives of the Reynoldses. Within minutes of his departure, they broke free and called the authorities who chased him to another rural cabin where he died surrounded by SWAT teams as the building burned down around him.
His charred body recovered from a burned cabin has yet to be positively identified as Dorner, but police have called off the manhunt for him.
Dorner also spared the life of Rick Heltebrake, whose pickup truck he hijacked as he was pursued by authorities into the woods after fleeing the Reynolds' home.
"He pointed his gun at me and said, 'I don't want to hurt you, just get out and start walking up the road and take your dog.' My dog was sitting in the passenger seat. I asked him if I could take her leash and he said 'no, just start walking'. So we both got out, started walking up the road," Heltebrake said.
In both cases he told his victims he would not kill them, a seemingly strange promise for a man who had written a lengthy manifesto pledging to murder police officers and their family members in retribution for being fired by the LAPD five years ago.
A murderer with a moral code sounds like a trope from the TV series "Dexter," a show about a serial killer who only slays other serial killers. But according to forensic psychiatrists, mass killers often have strict rules about who they are willing to kill.
"Many of these individuals have a beef with society broadly and they feel world has screwed them over in some way… They feel justified and unapologetic," said Dr. Phillip Resnick, director of forensic psychiatry at UH Case Medical Center in Ohio.
Resnick said some mass killers, like those who shoot up their workplaces after being fired, are not necessarily psychopaths, and believe they're settling scores by targeting those they perceive as guilty and sparing others.
Dorner "purposefully targeted police," said Dr. Stephen Montgomery, a forensic psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "He appears to be mentally sound enough to operate on a agenda, rather than just killing people willy-nilly."
"It seems he has a conscience and that it's able to reemerge at times. He was not 100 percent psycopathic. At times his conscience emerge and he decided to not kill," he said.
Neither doctor examined Dorner personally.
Dorner remained committed to killing police, however, shooting at state Fish and Game wardens who pursued him, and later killing a San Bernadino County sheriff's deputy after fleeing into the woods.
Some five hours later, Dorner would be dead. A charred body believed to be his, was found among the cabin's smoldering ruins. A single shot was heard from inside the cabin before it was engulfed in flames.
All told, Dorner killed four people, including Monica Quan and her fiance, who were found shot to death Feb. 3. Quan was the daughter of former LAPD Capt. Randal Quan, who was mentioned as a target of Dorner's fury in the manifesto.
Dorner is also suspected in the shooting death of Riverside Police Officer Michael Crain, whose death last Thursday launched the manhunt.
His last victim was San Bernardino Sheriff Deputy Jeremiah MacKay, 15-year veteran who was killed in the final shootout.