Mt. Rainier ranger called ‘hero’ who died protecting others
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To the sad fanfare of bugles and bagpipes, the National Park Service on Tuesday remembered the fallen park ranger who on New Year’s Day placed her vehicle -- and ultimately her life -- in the path of a heavily armed gunman who was speeding up into Mt. Rainier National Park.
In a memorial attended by thousands of law enforcement agents, park service employees, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, ranger Margaret Anderson was credited with saving the lives of more than 125 people recreating that day near a visitors center, the only possible destination at the end of a road that Anderson, in her last act on Earth, safely barricaded.
Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two toddlers, died when gunman Benjamin Colton Barnes opened fire on her vehicle and that of another park ranger who sped in to help.
‘What you saw last Sunday was not an anomaly. That was Margaret,’ Anderson’s father, New Jersey Lutheran pastor Paul Kritsch, said in one of several eulogies offered at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
‘Loving others in Christ’s name led her to put herself between the evil that was coming up the mountain and the people who were at the top who needed protecting,’ he said. ‘She did it because it had to be done.’
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, a former superintendent at Mt. Rainier, said Anderson was at the Paradise visitors center at the top end of the road when she got a report that Barnes had blown through a tire-chain checkpoint down the road.
‘Ranger Margaret Anderson left Paradise to do what she did best: to keep visitors safe,’ Jarvis said. ‘It was a deliberate, tactical decision to protect Paradise, the only destination at the end of that road.’
Park rangers lifted gloved hands to their Smokey the Bear hats in salute as Anderson’s coffin, draped in an American flag, was borne away. To the lilting tones of Alan Jackson’s ‘Remember When,’ photos of Anderson filled a screen: as a softly smiling teenager in a brown sweater; standing in her ranger uniform with the majesty of Rainier behind her; smiling cheek-to-cheek with her husband (fellow ranger Eric Anderson); hugging a gorilla; cuddling a sleeping infant in a pink shirt on her shoulder.
‘She ... referred to her ranger work as a calling,’ said Robert Danno, who recruited Anderson to her first national park ranger jobs in Utah and Maryland. He recalled visiting the training academy in northern Arizona where Anderson, who held a master’s degree in biology, was one of several candidates he interviewed for a job as a seasonal ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park.
‘She communicated her dream of becoming a national park ranger ... and my spine stiffened. I slowly straightened in my chair ... wanting her to see me as a worthy representative of Bryce Canyon,’ Danno recalled. ‘You see, in just minutes, Margaret had already projected what so many recognized in her. She presented an uncommon professionalism, maturity and humanity ... the ability to influence all those around her to make them better versions of themselves by her example.’
Barnes, 24, was found dead after a massive search, half-submerged in a creek at the bottom of a snowy slope. Mourners on Tuesday acknowledged they would never know why he came to the mountain, what his intentions were, or why Anderson’s life was cut short trying to stop him.
‘The crime just seemed so senseless,’ said Salazar, calling Anderson ‘a good and brave ranger’ who celebrated the loveliness of the lands in which she worked.
‘The book of Job says, ‘Ask the animals and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.’ ... Margaret saw this in so many special ways through her life. She saw it in the sacred and sublime of the American landscape.... She saw it in those glorious glaciers of Mt. Rainier,’ Salazar said.
‘We wonder, how many young guys did Margaret open up to the majesty of His creation? We wonder, how many hearts did she warm to the duties of her example as a steward of our national parks? We know we cannot count the wildflowers in Rainier’s Paradise Valley on a summer’s day. Nor can we measure the pain of a loss so great.’
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-- Kim Murphy in Seattle