I’m fortunate I get to see Mount Rainier – when the clouds cooperate – during my fairly short commute to work. It’s a great way to start the day, especially given my job description.
Following the tragic events on New Year’s Day, my view has been forever altered.
Each time I now see our iconic peak, I find myself thinking of the circumstances that unfolded Jan. 1, and resulted in the death of Margaret Anderson.
A law enforcement ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, Anderson died that day at the age of 34 when she was shot while trying to stop a vehicle that ran through a tire chain checkpoint. The driver and shooting suspect, 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes, was found the next day, dead from exposure.
I did not have the chance to meet or get to know Anderson. But in talking with people who did, I’ve learned that Anderson embodied the spirit and attitude of so many park employees.
She was passionate about her family. Her husband, Eric, is a fellow park ranger. Together they had two daughters, ages 3 and 1. They came to Mount Rainier in 2009 so they could work together in the same park.
Friends and coworkers describe Anderson’s love for the outdoors and how she cared about the place where she worked and the people with whom she worked.
In covering the mountain for eight years, I’ve learned that park staffers possess that shared passion for the outdoors and the park itself.
For many staffers, the pay is low and the hours are long. Some find themselves on lengthy furloughs, forced to seek temporary jobs to pay the bills when funding for their program runs out for the season.
I’ve also found that it doesn’t matter if they are staffing a visitor center information desk on a busy weekend or working behind the scenes to maintain the park’s vehicle fleet, they are proud of their park. More than anything, they want a park visitor to leave with a deeper appreciation for Mount Rainier and what a special place it is.
Anderson, by all accounts, approached her responsibilities in that very fashion.
I also can’t help but think that Anderson is a hero, perhaps having saved untold lives by her actions.
Who knows what Barnes could have done if he’d reached Paradise, crowded with people enjoying the park’s favorite winter play area? Armed with multiple weapons, would he have opened fire on visitors as he did at a New Year’s Eve party in Skyway?
Anderson’s sense of duty – to protect the park, its resources and its visitors – kept Barnes from reaching Paradise. In doing so, she may have kept hundreds of visitors and co-workers out of harm’s way.
At some point, I envision the park creating some sort of permanent marker commemorating Anderson for her sacrifice.
For me, I won’t be able to look at the mountain the same way. The mountain now serves as a 14,411-foot memorial to a remarkable person.