Park Service board to seek lessons from deadly shooting of ranger

Staff writerMay 13, 2012 

A National Park Service board of review will convene Tuesday at Mount Rainier National Park to review the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 1 killing of ranger Margaret Anderson.

The goal is to determine what happened and what changes can be made in procedures and policies to prevent a similar tragedy, said Jon Pierce, who will chair the five-member board. He is the chief of law enforcement in the Park Service’s Southeast region.

“We’re really not fault finding at all,” he said, “but it’s fact finding and how we can prevent this from happening again.”

Anderson, a 34-year-old law enforcement ranger, was shot and killed when she tried to stop Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, near Paradise. Barnes, a suspect in a Seattle shooting early New Year’s Day, drove through a park checkpoint above Longmire where rangers were making sure drivers had tire chains.

Anderson is survived by her husband, Eric, who also was a Mount Rainier law enforcement ranger; and two young daughters.

An intensive manhunt ended Jan. 2 when Barnes’ body was found partially submerged in Paradise Creek about one mile from the shooting scene. He drowned while suffering from hypothermia.

Anderson was the ninth Park Service ranger killed in the line of duty.

The board, which will include a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy, will review the current investigation report from the FBI, likely visit the scene of the shooting and interview park personnel who were involved. At his request, Eric Anderson will meet with the board.

The review will conclude its interviews Friday, Pierce said.

“We want to have enough local knowledge on the board so they have a good idea of the conditions we’re under,” Chuck Young, the park’s chief ranger, said of the inclusion of a sheriff’s deputy. “But the service feels it’s important to have people who aren’t working with us all the time to objectively look at it.

“Basically, they’re just looking to see what lessons we can learn – how we’re equipping our folks, how we’re training our folks and how we’re training them for decision making,”

“It’s a look at what went well and what might have happened, in hopes that it could save someone else,” said park superintendent Randy King.

A key to the review is getting out all the known facts, Young said.

“While the investigation is still ongoing, and you can’t divulge all the information until the investigation is complete, there is some misinformation out there,” he said.

The FBI investigation will not conclude until the snow melts at the scene, the Barnes Flat area a mile below Paradise, Young said. Investigators want to check to see whether snow covers any evidence.

He said board members believed they had enough information to proceed, rather than wait until late summer to conduct the review.

The board’s report will go to Pacific region director Christine Lehnertz, Pierce said. The document will be kept within the agency and not released to the public, allowing the people interviewed to speak more freely, he said.

He did not know when the report would be complete.

“It’s possible we won’t have any answers,” Pierce said. “I’m hopeful we’ll come up with some suggestions on procedure and policy changes that could benefit everyone.

“We’ll look at what can we affect – tactics, training and equipment – and not just at Mount Rainier, but hopefully these are suggestions that can be carried out at all parks.”

The shooting has prompted renewed emphasis among Park Service law enforcement trainers when it comes to stopping vehicles and felony stops, Pierce said.

“It’s all a reaction to a bad situation in hopes of preventing another,” Pierce said.

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