Margaret Anderson was at her best and fulfilling her calling when she died, her friends and family said Tuesday during a public memorial for the slain Mount Rainier National Park ranger.
“What you saw last Sunday was not an anomaly,” said Paul Kritsch, Anderson’s father. “That was Margaret.”
Thousands of people paid tribute to Anderson on Tuesday, standing in the cold on street corners as the procession passed or packing 2,700-seat Olson Auditorium at Pacific Lutheran University for a public memorial. Others watched the service from auxiliary viewing areas on and around campus and via a regional television broadcast.
Speakers painted a picture of a 34-year-old mother of two young girls who was molded by her faith and driven to help others. National Park Service director Jon Jarvis called her a hero and said she died saving the lives of Rainier visitors.
Anderson was shot on New Year’s Day by Benjamin Barnes when she stopped him after he blew through a snow-tire checkpoint. Barnes fled into the woods and was found dead after a 24-hour manhunt.
Anderson’s casket and the family motorcade arrived at PLU on Tuesday morning with hundreds of uniformed National Park Service and law enforcement officers saluting.
Inside, her casket was guarded, as is tradition, by two law enforcement officers until the service began. The second-to-last set of guards was from Lakewood, the department that lost four officers to a gunman in 2009.
There were tears and, at times, laughter as her life was remembered.
During the opening, two rangers affixed a purple ribbon with Anderson’s name printed in gold letters atop the NPS flag.
After the opening prayer, Anderson’s father, a Lutheran pastor from New Jersey, was the first to speak.
He was composed as he told of how Anderson developed her love for the outdoors playing in the woods by her childhood home in Connecticut. How she blamed her dog, Amos, for a shoeprint she left on the ceiling as child before finally coming clean when she was a student at Kansas State University.
He spoke of her skills as a painter and a trumpeter and her love for her husband, Eric, and their 3- and 1-year-old daughters. And he spoke of his daughter showing the greatest love, referring to a biblical passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 15, by dying for others.
“Taking up her cross to follow him (Jesus) was one of the main reasons Margaret went into law enforcement,” Kritsch said. “They don’t just punch a clock. They don’t go into law enforcement because they have nothing else to do. Those who are people of faith are motivated by their savior Jesus Christ to love people by keeping the world from being in chaos.
“We can be thankful for people like Margaret. … Loving others in Christ’s name led her to put herself between the evil that was coming up the mountain and the people who were at the top who needed protecting. … She did it just as Christ gave his life so that indeed all evil can be overcome.”
Anderson’s family has mourned privately since the shooting and asked not to be photographed or video-recorded at Tuesday’s service, but Kritsch told of a family whose faith remains unshaken. Even last week, Anderson’s daughters would walk around the house singing “Jesus Love Me,” he said.
“So where was Jesus on New Year’s Day,” Kritsch said. “He was there. He was working through Margaret to save others. And when Margaret’s life was wrenched away he was there taking her home to heaven, giving her a brand-new year that will never end.”
Anderson’s current pastor, Galen Gallimore of Spanaway’s Bethany Lutheran Church, spoke next, quoting the first line of the “Prayer of Saint Francis” to describe Anderson: “An instrument of your peace.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar read a letter to the family from President Barack Obama that concluded by saying, “please know that her contributions will live on in the hearts of all those who lives she touched.”
Salazar was one of many dignitaries, including Gov. Chris Gregoire, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Dave Reichert, who attended the service.
“We know that our nation has lost a good and brave ranger,” Salazar said.
Next, a slide show of Anderson family pictures set to the music of Alan Jackson and Alison Krauss had many in the stands reaching for tissues.
Jarvis, a former Mount Rainier superintendent, spoke next, saying Anderson was doing what she did best when she was killed: “Keeping people safe.”
He pointed out that many people who were at Paradise on New Year’s Day believe Anderson saved their lives by stopping the shooter.
“National Park ranger Margaret Anderson is a hero,” Jarvis said. “Not because she died, but because of why she died. To keep visitors safe.”
In a small news conference after the service, Jarvis said the NPS will “be working with (Eric Anderson) and his girls and his family for the rest of their lives. That’s just the way the Park Service does it.”
Next, Rainier superintendent Randy King, who had to break the news of Anderson’s death to her husband Jan. 1, spoke of Anderson’s dedication to her job and her leadership skills.
Trumpeter Mike Evans of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office played “Joyful Joyful We Adore You,” a song Anderson played on her trumpet at her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. Then, Gregoire presented a flag to Eric Anderson.
Robert Danno, who hired Anderson into the Park Service, talked of underestimating Anderson at first because of her small size, her kind ways and the birthmark on her face.
He said Anderson not only promptly proved herself but made the workers around her better.
“She will always be my hero,” Danno said through tears, “in life and in death. Rest now, Margaret. There is a special place in heaven for heroes.”
There were tears and sniffles during the closing ceremonies as taps was played and Anderson’s summer flat hat, which was displayed on stage for the service, was presented to Eric Anderson.
But it was a squawk over the loudspeaker that stirred the most emotions. It’s the sound the hundreds of law enforcement personnel in attendance are so used to hearing over their radios when it’s time to take action.
The recorded voice that followed was that of a woman at Mount Rainier National Park dispatch making the last call to “741,” Anderson’s radio call number. “Gone but not forgotten.”
NPS officials could not confirm where Anderson’s remains were taken after the service, stating that the family prefers to keep those details private.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497