A 34-year-old park ranger and mother of two was shot and killed this morning at Mount Rainier National Park. The shooting occurred just before 11 a.m. in the Barns Flat area, about 1 mile below Paradise. A 24-year-old man has been named a "strong person of interest" in the slaying.
Park spokesman Kevin Bacher identified the slain ranger as Margaret Anderson. She is married to a fellow park ranger and has two daughters, who are approximately 2 and 4. She lived in Eatonville.
More than 100 law enforcement personnel from agencies including Pierce County Sheriff's Department, the FBI, Washington State Patrol, U.S. Forest Service and other local police agencies are at the park and searching for the suspect. Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said the authorities believe he is armed with an assault weapon and possibly other weapons.
Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, has been named a "strong person of interest." Barnes is believed to have military experience and possess skills to survive in the wild. Troyer says the man's vehicle was recovered, which had weapons and body armor.
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According to KOMO-TV, Barnes is also a suspect in a shooting this morning in Skyway that injured four people.
Pierce County SWAT team has been deployed at the park, and other teams were expected, Troyer said.
A Border Patrol Black Hawk helicopter has also been deployed. Troyer said armored vehicles were being brought in to remove about 100 people who are hunkered down in cabins who police worry might be in the line of fire.
"We're working to keep everybody safe," Troyer said.
According to park spokesman Bacher, the suspect was stopped around 10:11 a.m. by another ranger. The suspect took off in his vehicle and was stopped by Anderson, who was monitoring a road block. Anderson was shot, and the suspect fled on foot, Bacher said.
"It took 90 minutes for back up to reach Ranger Anderson because the assailant continued shooting at law enforcement as they arrived," Lee Taylor said in a Mount Rainier National Park news release.
Mount Rainier National Park has been closed until further notice, and the public is being urged to stay out of the area. News helicopters have been asked to not fly overhead.
Melinda Simpson, operations manager for Mount Rainier National Park guest services, reports that the Jackson Visitor Center went into lockdown at 11:30 a.m., and the National Park Inn at Longmire at 1 p.m. The Paradise Inn has not yet opened for the season.
At 3 p.m., about 100 people were still holed up inside the Jackson center, Troyer said.
Others are in different lodges. "They are sheltering in place," Troyer said.
Simpson said she got all her guests together in the lodge at the National Park Inn and is trying to keep the mood "rational and sane" and keep guests comfortable.
She said there is a strong sheriff's department presence around Longmire.
Early this afternoon, people are still out hiking and snowshoeing at Rainier. They were asked to return to the lodge or to their cars by officers who are searching for the suspect.
A steady stream of cars and visitors are being turned around at an entrance booth. Five sheriff's deputy vehicles are blocking the entrance beyond the booth.
Roy residents Ken and Melody Loney drove up around 11:30 a.m. and were turned back. They've been sitting in their Jeep in a parking lot outside the park.
"We’re just hanging out. I mean, we have the day off," Ken Loney said.
Loney said that between between 1 and 1:15 p.m., he and his wife heard four gunshots. They said that earlier in the day, they saw 50 different law enforcement vehicles come into the park.
Jessica Provines, 23, of Tacoma had also headed to Rainier to play today and was rerouted. She and her boyfriend wanted to play in the snow. They were disappointed that they couldn’t get in, but they understand.
"Today was our last to get out and play around, but we were in it for the drive,” Provines said.
The Associated Press and News Tribune staff writers Craig Hill, Stacia Glenn, Debbie Cafazzo, Jeffrey P. Mayor and Kate McEntee contributed to this report.
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