A former Navy helicopter pilot who trained with rogue cop Chris Dorner in the Navy said his former best friend was a “man’s man” unrecognizable as the figure behind the savage shooting rampage this week in Los Angeles.
“The guy who was killed is not the guy who was my friend,” said Justin Gombos, a former helicopter pilot and now MBA student in Oregon. Eleven years ago, he was a Navy officer in training with Dorner in Pensacola, Fla.
“The Chris I knew was friendly, bubbly, always smiling, and an always upbeat person who wouldn’t harm innocent people. The guy that I knew was a guy you wanted as your friend,” he said.
Gombos is struggling to understand the factors that transformed Dorner, 33, sending him onto a shooting rampage during the first two weeks of February, leaving four people dead, including two police officers. He was cornered by police in a remote cabin Wednesday, and his charred body was formally identified Thursday.
Dorner’s spree was aimed at his former LAPD coworkers and led to one of the largest manhunts in LAPD history. And a rambling, politically-charged manifesto suggested a racial motive behind the series of murders by Dorner, who is African-American and wrote in a manifesto posted before the rampage that he had long been the victim of racism, including in the LAPD.
But Gombos, 34, did not recall Dorner dwelling in particular on race or on discrimination. In Navy officer training, in fact, Gombos remembered Dorner holding other black officer candidates to a higher standard than their white colleague, drawing at least one to complain about the intensity of a workout. Dorner was sensitive, in particular, to any suggestion that he was a minority just there to fill a quota.
“That particular guy was pulling the race card, saying ‘people are being hard on me because I’m black,’ and Chris stopped him and said, ‘The only reason you’re still here is because you’re black,’” Gombos said.
That was the only explicit conversation about race Gombos recalled. Being part of the military was a highlight in Dorner’s life.
“He was a man’s man,” Gombos said. “The fraternal aspect of it played into the fact that this was so important to him.”
Gombos met Dorner in the spring of 2002 when they were both in training at the Aviation Officer Candidate School at NAS in Pensacola.
On the weekends, they drank at the downtown Seville Quarter nightclub. The only time Gombos remembers Dorner losing his temper was when he was out at night in civilian clothes and Dorner wore an earring. Navy dress code forbids earrings. The two bumped into a superior officer who confronted Dorner about the jewelry.
“That officer kind of cornered him, and said, ‘Look, everyone knows you’re in the Navy, you can’t wear that,’” Gombos remembers. “Chris just became really defensive, but he knew better than to pop off to a superior officer. In the cab ride home, he vented on me. He didn’t think it was racist, but I think he felt a magnified feeling of being a minority.”
Classes would a semester curriculum into a week or ten days, Gombos remembers. Students crammed for exams in the library, took tests, and moved along to the next subject. “We called it the ‘pump and dump,’” Gombos said. “We would memorize it and forget it.”
When Dorner and Gombos weren’t studying, they were exercising with 5 a.m. 5-mile runs and daily rounds of 100 sit-ups and push ups.
Dorner was a natural athlete who had played football in college at Southern Utah University and could complete the most difficult drills like swimming a mile in uniform.
“Officer candidate school is the prime physical and mental challenge of a lifetime,” Gombos said. “But Chris was a prime physical specimen. He was one of the youngest in his class and so I remember when it came to anything that was physical, he was always encouraging others to work harder.”
The friends lived three rooms apart, and watched sitcoms and movies like Starship Troopers in the hall’s lounge. Gombos remembers Dorner calling his mother weekly from the communal telephone, and helping others wash their uniforms. Gombos didn’t have a car, but Dorner did and would give Gombos rides to run errands or stop at the local Chinese joint. Dorner always ordered hot and sour soup.
Extending his military career
After finishing officer school, the friends attended separate aviation schools. Gombos went to Corpus Christi, Texas and Dorner headed to Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
While Gombos completed his training and became a pilot, Dorner did not finish flight school. He dropped out for academic reasons.
“Technically, the Navy calls it ‘subject to attrition,’ but the Navy thought enough of Chris to keep him on as a reservist,” Gombos said. “Normally if you don’t make it through flight school, they send you home.”
But Dorner stuck around. In the Navy Reserve, Dorner was promoted to Lieutenant in 2006, the same year he was deployed to Bahrain, where he protected a civilian port. He worked various security jobs and served a stint from 2006 to 2007 in Iraq. Gombos saw Dorner one time just before he shipped out.
“He told me he was going to provide security for an oil platform in the Persian Gulf,” Gombos said. “He was himself — his happy, bubbly, smiley self.”
In 2005, Dorner joined the Los Angeles Police Department and completed training in 2006. In 2008, he filed a report concerning a fellow police officer, accusing his colleague of using excessive force on the job. Dorner was fired from the force on September 4, 2008. In 2009, he sued the police department in an effort to reclaim his job. During this time, he continued to do Naval Reserve security work. In 2010, the Superior Court ruled in favor of the LAPD.
In the middle of the 2010 proceedings, Gombos bumped into Dorner in a gas station in Irvine, Calif. Gombos had just returned home from a tour in Afghanistan as a forward air controller.
He said Dorner didn’t recognize him right away and seemed distracted. He told Gombos he was working for the LAPD but that there was “some sort of legal proceeding” going on that was giving him trouble. He was vague on the details.
“We hugged goodbye,” Gombos said. “It was kind of a bro hug with the handshake in the middle and one arm around each other. That was the last time I had contact with him.”
In 2011, Dorner’s lawsuit was rejected by the California Court of Appeals.
Dorner was honorably discharged from the Navy Reserve on February 1, 2013. His shooting spree began on February 3. In his manifesto, Dorner asked for a public admission from the LAPD that his termination was connected to the report he filed.
Gombos said he can understand why Dorner would feel completely abandoned after losing both his military and police jobs.
“In short order, he lost everything. Those were his friends, his social networks, his life.”
The guy with a smile
When Gombos heard the name “Christopher Dorner” on the news, he thought it must be a different person. Until he saw the pictures.
“When you see pictures of him in fatigues with a big smile on his face, that’s the guy that I remember.”
As things started to unravel on Tuesday evening and the LAPD chased any signs of the suspected murderer, Gombos looked at his phone.
Missed phone call alerts and dozens of text messages filled the screen.
“Can you believe this?”
Gombos’ phone was blowing up with messages from old military friends, and he couldn’t scroll through all the messages. He needed to focus on class, which felt impossible as his old best friend was being chased by the police.
In the opening lines of his manifesto, Dorner wrote directly to friends like Gombos:
“I know most of you who personally know me are in disbelief to hear from media reports that I am suspected of committing such horrendous murders … You are saying to yourself that this is completely out of character of the man you knew who always wore a smile wherever he was seen …”
Gombos turned off his phone.
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- Alejandra V. thinks My Friend, Chris Dorner is OMG
Dorner was an intelligent man who went into LAPD with honor and integrity. LAPD destroyed this man mentally, LAPD has itself to blame and no one else. LAPD has oxygen thieves who need to be taken out. I think that this is the spark that will turn others to do the same thing. People are tired of those in authority getting away with destroying people and getting away with it. People say that killing is wrong, but ruining a man and his reputation is just as bad.
- hermitina thinks My Friend, Chris Dorner is OMG
- MattAngels thinks My Friend, Chris Dorner is OMG
It’s amazing how easy it is to “CLAIM” Mr Christopher Dorner killed all of whom he has been accused. Therefore he should be assassinated.
So far the only information we have received about Mr Dorner is coming from his murderers.
“OUR SQUEAKY CLEAN/FAMOUS LAPD.”
Did anyone actually see him as a crazed maniac with a “manifesto for killing”? How do we know this “manifesto” was coming from Mr Dorner and not one of his murderers? Is there anyone who witnessed Mr. Dorner, ever writing this “manifesto” or speaking any of this out of his mouth, prior to all of the events that have led up to his assassination? Of course not! Because it did not happen!
In this country, we are still presumed “INNOCENT” until proven guilty in a “COURT of LAW.” How do we know who really killed these people???
Who actually benefits from their deaths. Who gets the insurance money for these people when they died?? Surely not Mr. Dorner!
I Couldn’t help but think how easy it would have been for any of those individuals killed, to have been killed by someone other than by Mr Dorner.
Who was the “last person” with each of these people? Who reported the murders?
How did Mr Dorner “get to them?”
What “real” evidence, turned up during the investigations to PROVE it was Mr. Doner who “allegedly” committed these murders?
Again, who gets the insurance money?
I was always told if you follow the insurance money you might all be
surprised…who done it.
Of course no one will ever know the real truth, except those
individuals directly involved. The others are now all dead, including Mr. Dorner…we all know, “ead men can’t talk.”
The murderers who are still alive “CLAIM” Mr. Dorner,
was responsible for the four deaths. Where is the proof! Was that ever checked out or just assumed to be truth to make Mr Dorner, look much worse to the public? This accused man has been conveniently burned to death; with a bullet to the head.
It was never meant for Mr. Dorner, to be taken alive, or for him to ever have his day in court, or for the world to hear both sides of the true story.
There are far too many UNANSWEARED QUESTIONS here. Especially in this LAND, OF THE FREE! and HOME OF THE BRAVE! Christopher Dorner is all of us…white…asian…black…etc. We all could have been set up just like Mr. Christopher Dorner. This was a man who gave his life fighting for what he believed. A “VETRAN” who fought for his country!
Mr Dorner’s life is a testimony that he was indeed one of the “good guys”. To those who have chosen to tarnish his good name, I ask you, where is your proof?
We need a full blown investigation of what REALLY HAPPENED. Not by LAPD’S paid cohorts. They have no room to speak with their track record; which speaks “VOLUMES” all by it’s self. and has for years…Just more business as usual for our good ole LAPD…hmmm? An independent outside investigation must be completed immediately. Start by looking at the beneficiaries of the decedents’ life insurance policies. Find out if Mr. Dorner really murdered those which he has been accused; or was this part of the frame up?
And then take the Head of police, upon his offer to have an investigation into what really happened during the 2007, incident, that led to the disgraceful firing of this “Veteran” who fought for his country, returned money in 2002, and with whom until this assassination of his character and now himself, by those who have chosen to cover up the actions ‘ONCE AGAIN’ in a matter regarding the LAPD.
There is no place in 2013, for this kind of tolerance.
Enough is Enough! Who will be next? will it be you? will it be one of your family members? Those in authority are to be held to a higher standard. But if we continue to see these repeated injustices without allowing a man to have his day in court, without fear of harm or retaliation; when something is really done, by some accused, the public will always have the ROTTEN TASTE of “MISTRUST” and of MORE COVER UP from those who have sworn to serve and protect us “ALL” not just the “few”
There must be a public “OUT CRY” for THE TRUTH! By an independent outside investigation.
The truth will come out. Those responsible are liars and must be exposed, before they are allowed to do even more harm! This Nation should at least require the TRUTH not ACCEPTANCE with out the FACTS!
God help us all!
- Fredz1229 My Friend, Chris Dorner
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- elvisdepressley thinks My Friend, Chris Dorner is Fail
You sound like the typical bigot, equating any black person who commits a crime to a thug. He was not a thug. If you even took the time to read the manifesto, you’d see that the police were already dishonoring the uniform long before Chris even took action, sir. And the spelling is “Satan”.
I equate any person that commits a crime as a thug, POS, scum of the earth. These individuals take from law abiding individuals with no regard for the feelings of other and you expect me to any sympathy for them? I could give a f about what he wrote. I did read the so called “manifesto” and thought it to be worthless. Do you believe that he is justified in his actions? If so you are a POS like he was. By the way, his use of military terms was like that of someone just pulling them out of a book, not of someone that knew their meaning. The guy was a flight school washout POGE not a warrior.
The people that criminalize our society are the ones that are bringing it down. Mr Dorner is a contributor. Thank you for the spelling correction. I hope Satan is having a good time with him.
Regardless of who Dorner “was” he came a murderous thug period. He spilled blood of the innocent that he swore to protect and defend via two separate oaths. Guess how many LAPD he killed? 0. His beef was with LAPD but he kills his own lawyers daughter and her fiance leaving behind two small kids. None of the police he murdered were on the LAPD.
Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness? There are far too many cases where people who have lost all traces of sanity commit atrocities. That’s not to say we put all such evils down to mental illness; simply that I think it is a factor in many cases. I fear it will be difficult to prevent these horrendous acts from happening completely unless we look the matter in the eye and ask why it happened - even if that means admitting that perhaps society had failed the perpetrator in some way prior to the incident. I know it’s deeply unpalatable when people try to project the role of victim onto the perpetrator, but perhaps it’s a distasteful but necessary part of finding out why it happened. That’s not to say it’s what happened here. Just that I think it’s important to consider it. My own most profound sympathies go, of course, to this man’s victims and their families - because finding out why it happened may prevent it happening to someone else (and this is good), but I know all too well that it’ll never bring back *their* loved ones.
- Pixiedrmwrld thinks My Friend, Chris Dorner is OMG
- whitneys6 My Friend, Chris Dorner and thinks it’s LOL
I don’t care if he seemed like a cool guy or not. This man AMBUSHED (and killed) a cop’s daughter and her fiance that were sitting in a car, and AMBUSHED (one died and the other injured) two LAPD police officers that were also sitting in their car at a light. He then killed another cop and injured another. After it was all said and done there were four dead and four injured. He threatened to murder cops and their families. And why? Not because he was beaten, or his family was in danger, or some other life threatening injustice, but because he was fired…rightly or not. He was given the opportunity numerous times to turn himself in, but he choose not to so he could continue with his mission. This man deserved what he received and none of you can justify the horrific acts that he performed. He performed cowardly acts (ambushing) in the name of his justice and he will get no sympathy from me. Oh, but the LAPD is corrupt, he was a victim, conspiracy…blah,blah,blah. Many times life isn’t fair, get over it. And get off the LAPD’s back. Yeah, there are some bad apples, but name a state that doesn’t have a few. I live in Cali now, but spent some time in Houston and Cali ain’t got nothing on them. Louisiana, NY… I could go on.
- My Friend, Chris Dorner is starting to get hot on Twitter Tweet It
“But Gombos, 34, did not recall Dorner dwelling in particular on race or on discrimination. In Navy officer training, in fact, Gombos remembered Dorner holding other black officer candidates to a higher standard than their white colleague, drawing at least one to complain about the intensity of a workout.” … then he was dwelling on it, no?
- Judd Hayes My Friend, Chris Dorner and thinks it’s OMG
The deal is likely one of mental illness. This article shows a relatively normal, stable-seeming guy who transformed into something monstrous. Many times, mental illness of this sort can creep in unnoticed and erode what one once was, leaving something new in its place. Friends hardly recognize the person who committed these atrocious acts. Kind of like the Unabomber or Timothy McVeigh, for example.