As most of us learn with age, the holiday season can often be a time of tragedy despite its promises of cheerfulness and new beginnings. Residents of Washington State experienced this firsthand yesterday, January 1, 2012, when a gunman shot and killed a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park. The woman, 34-year-old mother of two Margaret Anderson, had been serving as a park ranger for four years.Her husband, also a Mount Rainier park ranger, was working elsewhere in the park at the time of the shooting. Around 10:20 A.M., the gunman sped past a security checkpoint making sure vehicles had tire chains for the snowy conditions. While another ranger followed, Anderson blocked the road to stop the driver. The perpetrator began firing shots, and Anderson, who should have been armed, was hit before she even left her vehicle.
The suspected gunman, 24-year-old Iraq war veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes, immediately fled the scene. The man is also believed to be the prime suspect in a shooting that occurred earlier that morning at a house part outside of Seattle, during which four people were injured. While Barnes has yet to be found, authorities have recovered his vehicle, and found weapons and body armor inside. Mount Rainier National Park is presently on lockdown, with roughly 125 people spending last night in the visitor center basement under the protection law enforcement.
Authorities believe Barnes is still in the woods, and members of the Washington State Patrol, U.S. Forest Service and FBI are attempting to follow his tracks. “We do have a very hot and dangerous situation,” Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. Tactical responders, both in heat-sensing aircrafts and on foot wearing crampons and snowshoes, have been searching for Barnes ever since.
Anderson and her family moved to the small town of Eatonville, Washington roughly a year ago. The town, a logging community overlooking Mount Rainier, has about 3,000 residents and is extremely close-knit. Adam Norton, a neighbor of the Andersons, said, “They just seemed like the perfect family.” He added, “It’s really sad right now. We take care of each other.”