Board: Mount Rainier ranger's shooting death not preventable

Staff writersSeptember 20, 2012 

A National Park Service review board has determined the Jan. 1 shooting death of Mount Rainier law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson was not preventable.

In a statement released Thursday, the board praised Anderson, park staffers and responding agencies while issuing recommendations for changes at the park.

The board also credited Anderson’s actions for saving lives.

Anderson, 34, was fatally shot on the road to Paradise as she and another ranger were attempting to intercept a vehicle that had fled through a mandatory chain-up checkpoint. Stopped by Anderson just below Paradise, driver Benjamin Barnes opened fire on both rangers, killing Anderson. Barnes then escaped on foot into the woods. After an extensive manhunt, Barnes’ body was found the next day in Paradise River. He drowned while suffering from hypothermia.

“The courageous and decisive actions of the rangers prevented Benjamin Barnes from reaching the crowded Paradise area of the park and likely saved the lives of many park visitors and staff,” Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz said in a statement. “We still couldn’t have prevented this dangerous, disturbed and determined man from killing Ranger Anderson even if all of the recommendations that the board has made had been in place.”

The board met in mid-May to examine the shooting and identify lessons that could enhance protection of park employees and the public. The board included law enforcement experts from inside and outside the park service.

The board reviewed the FBI’s draft report, visited the site of the shooting and interviewed those involved.

In its report, the board offered four recommendations:

• Update park law enforcement standard operating procedures, including those for critical incident management, use of force and communicating during crises.

Superintendent Randy King said the park is looking at improving radio and cellphone reception in the park.

“It’s always challenging in this (mountainous) environment,” he said.

King said park officials are looking at moving radio repeaters to improve coverage on the Nisqually corridor.

Improving cellphone coverage could also be important. There are few places in the park with reception, especially at popular destinations such as Paradise and Longmire.

“It’s cause to re-evaluate that need because that’s how people communicate,” King said.

• Ensure all law enforcement patrol vehicles are marked according to NPS standards. Rainier chief ranger Chuck Young said two of the vehicles involved in stopping Barns were new and had not been adorned with stripes and the NPS logo.

• Conduct training on critical-incident response and critical-incident stress management. The park already conducts extensive training in this area but will look for ways to improve training, Young said.

• Pursue developing “memorandums of understanding” with local cooperating law enforcement agencies. This would formalize how agencies respond to incidents at the park, Young said.

He said the park was made of aware the recommendations before Thursday’s announcement, and “We are working on putting all of these recommendations into practice.”

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