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Deputies talk about trying to rescue Rainier park ranger, hunt for gunman

Benjamin Colton BarnesHuman InterestNational ParksIraq War (2003-2011)

Pierce County sheriff’s deputies said Wednesday they had hoped to rescue the Mount Rainier National Park ranger slain in the park New Year’s Day by a gunman and they described how, after discovering her dead, they searched through the snowy woods for the killer.

Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, 36, was shot and killed in her SUV when she tried to set up a roadblock to stop the gunman, who had sped past the park’s entrance without stopping.  The suspect, Benjamin Barnes, a 24-year-old former soldier and Iraq war veteran, disappeared into the park. 

Authorities sealed the park to the public after gunshots rang out.

Sgt. Nick Hausner  of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said of Anderson, “We were thinking that we could save her."

Hausner and Deputy Brian Coburn – two members of the sheriff department’s mountain detachment, along with three others and a park ranger – raced to the scene. 

The men drove by Barnes' car first. The car doors were open so they knew he wasn't hiding inside, the deputies said.  They found Anderson’s SUV a quarter-mile up the hill.  Bullets had blasted through her windshield; she was inside the vehicle.

“We grabbed her and was able to get her out of the vehicle in probably anywhere from three to five seconds,” Coburn said.

They realized she was dead on the drive back down the hill, but there was still an armed fugitive on the loose.  A break in the manhunt came from Sgt. Ted Holden with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, who was hauling SWAT team members up the hill.

“I saw what were clearly man tracks in the timber some distance off the road that I had not seen on one of my previous trips," Holden said.

Barnes was struggling through the snow – and the men tried to track him and find him.

“You could see essentially post holes -- he didn`t have snowshoes on – post holes where he was going through the snow, and you could see tracks where he tried to balance himself with his hands in the deep snow,” Holden said.

It was a nervous undertaking.

“You`re watching hillsides, you’re watching trees so this guy doesn`t sneak down and snipe you. That was a big concern,” Coburn said.

A SWAT team tracked him to a creek, but had to stop when it got dark. They found his body the next day in the water.  An autopsy later showed that Barnes, 24, had drowned.   Coburn was there.

“People have asked me to go talk to somebody,” Coburn said. “I told them, the best therapy I got was when I walked out there and saw him laying in the creek.”

It’s still unclear why Barnes entered the national park.  It is believed he was involved in a shooting at a party in Seattle earlier where four people were wounded. 

 Barnes’ family issued a statement that read, “We are as shocked as anyone concerning the events of the last few days. And while we in no way condone or excuse Ben's behavior, he was a beloved member of our family and we are saddened by his loss."

On Wednesday, Anderson’s SUV and Barnes’ car were pulled out of the park.

Mount Rainier National Park will reopen to the public at 8 a.m. Saturday — nearly a week after Anderson's death.


National Park Service spokeswoman Patti Wold said that the park community will use the time to grieve the loss of their slain co-worker and friend Margaret Anderson.

“The park family is using the time to begin the recovery process in the aftermath of the horrific events leading up to and following the loss of Ranger Anderson,” Wold said.

A candle light vigil for Anderson has been scheduled for Sunday at 5 p.m. It will be held at the Eatonville Early Learning Center at 560 Center St. East, Eatonville.

In addition, a public memorial service for Anderson will be held Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Pacific Lutheran University.

Anderson leaves behind her husband, Eric, who is also a park ranger, and two young children.

The Anderson family is asking that any donations be made to the Margaret Anderson Fund at Key Bank. Donations may also be mailed to Key Bank, P.O. Box 159, Eatonville, WA 98328. Checks should be designated for the Margaret Anderson Donation Account.

Meanwhile, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has directed that all flags in Pierce County be lowered to half-staff until further notice in honor of Anderson.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Benjamin Colton BarnesHuman InterestNational ParksIraq War (2003-2011)