Mount Rainier Suspected Shooter Found Dead
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The New Year started on a strange and tragic note in one of America's national parks. On Sunday, a gunman shot and killed a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park. That set off an evacuation of the park, and then a huge manhunt. The manhunt ended yesterday with the suspected shooter found dead in a snowy canyon. Tom Banse of the Northwest News Network reports from the edge of the park in Washington State.
TOM BANSE, BYLINE: Popular Mount Rainier National Park has been closed since Sunday as authorities hunted for a heavily armed Iraq War veteran. The man fled on foot into the snowy wilderness. This after he allegedly shot up two patrol cars, killing the ranger in one of them. The ensuing manhunt involved more than 200 personal, including SWAT teams on snowshoes and aircraft with heat seeking cameras.
Pierce County, Washington Sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer says the suspect was found face-down in a snowbound stream about 24 hours after the search began. He was down to a t-shirt, jeans and one shoe. Two guns nearby. Cause of death: presumed to be hypothermia. Ironically, the location is named Paradise Creek.
ED TROYER: The condition he was in, and the clothing he had on him, he was not equipped to make it a night or two in the winter conditions that were up there.
BANSE: Troyer confirmed the suspected shooter is 24-year-old Benjamin Barnes. The Seattle resident was kicked out of the Army a couple years ago for misconduct involving DUI and a weapon. Barnes was already on the run when he encountered the park rangers, though they didn't know that.
He was wanted for questioning about an earlier shootout. The gunfire there injured four guests at a suburban New Year's house party. Troyer says why the gunman then hightailed it for a famous national park is anybody's guess.
TROYER: Unfortunate how it turned out, but it's a good thing he was stopped because I don't know what you do on top of a mountain full of people with a car full of weapons and no winter gear. Who knows, but it wasn't going to be anything good.
BANSE: The slain park ranger leaves behind a husband and two young children. Her name was Margaret Anderson. She'd met her husband at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah where both worked as rangers. They moved together to Mount Rainier about four years ago. Park superintendent Randy King says his staff is struggling to cope with the loss of what he calls a tremendous person.
RANDY KING: Extremely passionate about working for the National Park Service, like most employees are. Very dedicated to her job. Highly trained, highly skilled, highly motivated, excellent law enforcement officer. And it's just a horrible, horrible loss.
BANSE: And it's the first time a ranger has ever been killed in this park.
In the small towns outside Mount Rainier, relief that the manhunt is over mixes with grief for the loss of a neighbor. Restaurant owner Elisa Fruzzetti came outside to change her reader board. It now says, In Loving Memory Ranger Anderson - Our hearts are with your family.
ELISA FRUZZETTI: Everybody's just pretty much in shock. So it's a tough thing up here, because everybody is so close.
BANSE: FBI special agent Steven Dean offered reassurances to the wider public when he addressed a battery of cameras and reporters at the park entrance.
STEVEN DEAN: I think you'll see if you look at the statistics, national parks are safe places to go. National parks are safe places to take your families. This is an anomaly. This is something that doesn't happen.
BANSE: Dean says law enforcement at all levels will be asking questions in the coming days about what - if anything - could have been done differently.
For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse near Mount Rainier National Park. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.