A man suspected of shooting a ranger to death was found dead Monday in Mount Rainier National Park, likely defeated by the mountain his victim worked to protect.
A day after 34-year-old ranger Margaret Anderson was shot by a driver who ran through a safety checkpoint, the suspect’s body was found partially submerged in Paradise Creek about a mile from the scene, authorities said.
Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, appeared to have died of exposure to winter conditions, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. The medical examiner was on hand to examine and remove the body and will make the final determination of cause of death. No determination had been made as of Monday night.
Temperatures were in the low 30s Sunday night. When Barnes’ body was found, it was clad in a T-shirt, jeans and one shoe, Troyer said.
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“He was not equipped to make it a night or two,” Troyer said. He said there were no external wounds on the body.
Firearms were found near the body, which the sheriff’s swift water rescue team recovered from above the 188-foot Narada Falls, Troyer said.
Investigators were expected to continue working at the scene through the night despite snowy conditions. The park will remain closed today.
Barnes served two years, seven months in the Army before receiving a less than honorable discharge in November 2009, said Maj. Chris Ophardt, an Army spokesman.
He was charged with a DUI and transporting privately owned weapons improperly, Ophardt said. Barnes was stationed at Fort Lewis and served in the Iraq War.
He worked in communications and had no special outdoor survival experience, said FBI special agent in charge Steven Dean.
The King County Sheriff’s Office was also seeking Barnes in connection with a shooting at a house party in Skyway near Renton early Sunday, when a man and a woman were critically injured and two men were wounded.
On Sunday morning, park ranger Daniel Camiccia was manning a checkpoint on the road to Paradise on the south side of Rainier when Barnes approached in a blue Pontiac.
The routine checkpoint was set up to make sure park visitors had appropriate tires and chains for wintertime travel in the park. Barnes’ car wasn’t appropriately equipped and ran through the roadblock, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.
Camiccia pursued Barnes and radioed for backup. Anderson responded from Paradise, and the rangers converged on Barnes at Barn Flats, just below Paradise.
Barnes made a U-turn, jumped out of the car and opened fire. He shot through Camiccia’s windshield and through the door of Anderson’s vehicle, Bacher said.
Anderson never made it out of her vehicle, he said.
“There was nothing she could have done,” Troyer said.
Camiccia was not hit and backed his vehicle away from the scene, Bacher said.
“It is through the grace of God that we don’t have a second ranger that responded that was also killed,” said park Superintendent Randy King, who praised Anderson and Camiccia’s response.
“They made a conscious decision to try to stop him below Paradise,” King said. They knew that on one of the busiest days of the winter, the popular high-elevation spot was packed with visitors frolicking in the snow. They didn’t want to risk stopping a car that had already blown by one checkpoint in a spot where the traffic stop might result in injury to visitors, King said.
After Anderson was shot, rangers were able to reach her and administer first aid, but they did not know immediately if she was alive or not, Bacher said.
He said early reports had indicated it was 90 minutes before rangers and law enforcement reached her. But he said the 90-minute time lapse occurred after the initial contact, when the gunman began firing on the rangers and other law enforcement officers trying to get her out.
“I have to acknowledge the bravery of our law enforcement officers,” said King, who was wearing a black band over his badge. “ They do an incredible job, and there is a price to be paid for that occasionally.”
He would not speculate on whether his rangers saved civilian lives by stopping the shooter below Paradise.
“It was a good thing he was stopped,” Troyer said, “because I don’t know what you are going to do at the top of a mountain full of people with a car full of weapons and no winter gear. Who knows, but it wasn’t going to be anything good.”
All of the firearms believed brought into the park by Barnes have been removed, Troyer said.
When the shooter fled into the woods, a search that grew to include about 200 local and federal law enforcement officers and firefighters was launched. Searchers used airplanes, helicopters, infrared technology, dogs and snowshoes.
Barnes appeared ill-prepared for his flight into Mount Rainier’s steep, icy and snow-covered terrain.
Investigators are still working to determine his path, but law enforcement spokespeople said he appeared to travel in circles, struggling across creeks and through chest-deep snow.
The body was spotted from the air, then discovered by a sheriff’s SWAT team traveling on snowshoes. The team followed Barnes’ footprints in the snow and found his body 300 feet from where he entered Paradise Creek.
Bacher, who lives near Anderson in Eatonville, said Anderson was well-liked at the park and will be missed.
“We absolutely take this personally,” Bacher said.
“Margaret was just a tremendous individual,” King said. “It’s just a horrible, horrible loss.”
Since the shooting occurred on federal property, the FBI is investigating.
“The manhunt is done,” said FBI agent Dean. “Now we have to figure out why it happened.”
Staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497