Special Reports

An angry man, a fallen ranger, a sad start to 2012

For Margaret Anderson’s family in Eatonville – and her family of Mount Rainier National Park rangers – the new year began with senseless tragedy.

The shooting that took Anderson’s life Sunday and also targeted another ranger who escaped injury is a sobering reminder that our parks aren’t always refuges of peace.

Park rangers are much more than uniformed tourism ambassadors with keen knowledge of flora, fauna and hiking trails. They are a law enforcement presence protecting park visitors – exactly the service Anderson was providing when she was killed in the line of duty Sunday.

Anderson, 34, who was shot trying to intercept a driver who had illegally bypassed a snow-tire checkpoint, is the first national park ranger killed in the line of duty since 2002. The last rangers to die in Mount Rainier National Park were Phil Otis and Sean Ryan, killed in 1995 trying to rescue an injured climber.

Besides helping stranded climbers and lost hikers, park rangers may encounter every kind of crime seen in the outside world. And increasingly, they know, the perpetrators may be armed.

Since 2010, federal law has allowed visitors to bring firearms into national parks (visitors are subject to gun laws in the communities where the parks are located). But even had the earlier park gun ban still been in effect, it certainly would not have stopped the man suspected in Anderson’s death.

Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was a troubled young man who had had several run-ins with the law and was the suspect in a Renton shooting early Sunday that injured four people, two critically. When he entered Mount Rainier National Park, he was heavily armed with weapons that included an assault rifle.

Although Barnes was a former Army communications specialist who served in Iraq from 2007-08, he is not believed to have seen combat. He received a misconduct discharge in 2009 after he was charged with DUI and improper transport of a privately owned weapon.

There is poetic justice to the fact that Mount Rainier claimed the life of the man suspected in Anderson’s murder; his body was found Monday in Paradise Creek. Although he may have taken survival gear with him to the park, he was not wearing it when he fled into the wild and he seems to have died of exposure.

That is little solace to Anderson’s friends and loved ones, including a husband and two young daughters. But it is some measure of justice.