Special Reports

Rainier staff appreciates support from well-wishers

The phone calls, emails cards and letters and offers of help arrive each day.

They offer condolences and donations, anything to help the staff members at Mount Rainier National Park cope with Sunday’s shooting death of law enforcement ranger Margaret Anderson.

The 34-year-old mother of two was fatally shot while trying to stop a vehicle that drove through a tire-chain checkpoint. The suspect, 24-year-old Benjamin Barnes, was found dead Monday. An autopsy showed he drowned while suffering from hypothermia.

“The condolences and messages we are getting are overwhelming, but in a good way,” park superintendent Randy King said Wednesday. “A lot of them have touched me. I get choked up reading them. I have been very moved by them.”

The support began when the first calls for assistance went out Sunday. At the height of the search, as many as 250 law enforcement personnel were involved. The offers to help have continued.

“If you take the terribleness of the crime, the support we’ve gotten has matched that,” King said. “It means a lot to us, it’s helping us heal.”

Each person’s reaction is unique, said park spokesman Kevin Bacher, who knew Anderson as a co-worker and as a fellow member of the same Spanaway church.

“Even from hour to hour, you feel different,” he said of his own experience. “One hour you feel strong and can deal with it, the next hour you just feel overwhelmed. Those messages of support are something that give me strength.”

While the initial sorrow might fade, King said experience has shown him it will never go away.

While working as the regional chief ranger of the Park Service’s Intermountain region, King was involved in the aftermath of the 2002 shooting of ranger Kristopher Eggle at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the last time a park ranger was murdered in the line of duty.

“The idea that you get over it, that isn’t reality,” he said. “You find a way to hopefully come to terms with it that is healthy for you, your family and your loved ones.”

That healing process takes time, King said. That factor and others went into the decision to keep the park closed until Saturday.

Several park staffers are involved in the criminal investigation, plus the road to Paradise was part of the crime scene and two of the vehicles involved were not removed until Wednesday. In addition, King wanted to give some staff members time to rest and the entire staff time to grieve. National Park Service counselors have been at the park since Tuesday.

“We’re in a healing mode, and that has to be our priority,” he said. “We have to find a way to allow the grieving to take place.”

The six-day closure meant canceling some 30 room reservations at The National Park Inn, said Pam Newlun, sales manager for Mount Rainier Guest Services.

“We didn’t have too many rooms booked going into this week,” she said.

The impact of the New Year’s Day tragedy rippled far beyond the park boundaries, King said.

“It has been a very traumatic event for us, individually and collectively,” he said. “Not only for us, but for people outside the park. It makes it very, very personal, and it goes beyond the park.

Among those offering words of condolence were the killer’s family of Temecula, Calif., which issued a statement Wednesday

“First and foremost, the Barnes family would like to extend our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of everyone affected by Ben’s actions,” the family said. “Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your families as well during this difficult time.

“We are as shocked as anyone concerning the events of the last few days and while we in no way condone or excuse Ben’s behavior, he was a beloved member of our family and we are saddened by his loss. Our family would appreciate our privacy as we deal with the tragic events that have transpired.”

Looking ahead, King said Saturday’s reopening will be good.

“People care about this place and care about what happened,” he said. “It’s not just our grief. People are horrified by what happened.”

“I will welcome (park visitors) back,” he said. “The park belongs to the American people. It will help Mount Rainier get back to where it needs to be. It will be a good thing and certainly welcome.

“These places belong to the people,” he said, “and they need to know they are safe, and they are.”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640