Updated: Suspect In Mount Rainier National Park Shooting Found Dead
Editor's note: This updates that the suspect confirmed dead in the park and provides additional details, including his name.
An Iraqi war veteran wanted in connection with the slaying of a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park was found dead Monday afternoon in a drainage near one of the park's hallmark waterfalls just south of Paradise.
How Benjamin Colton Barnes died, however, was not immediately known. While ground teams had reached the location of his body, they had not reported whether he had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, from hyopthermia, or perhaps from a fall, park spokeswoman Lee Snook said.
Mr. Barnes had been the subject of a manhunt that grew to involve more than 200 law enforcement personnel from state, local and federal jurisdictions after Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot New Year's Day. At times he waded through chest-deep snow to evade the search teams, Ms. Snook said.
“The last time his tracks were found the snow was about chest deep, so it would have been cold, wet and difficult," she said. The tracks indicated that he was "post-holing" and had no snowshoes, the spokeswoman said.
Earlier Monday, park officials said aerial teams had spotted Mr. Barnes' prone body in a steep drainage near Narda Falls, a 176-foot cascade of the Paradise River that plunges over a basalt wall in two pitches, one falling about 159 feet, the other about 17.
Ranger Anderson, a 34-year-old law enforcement ranger, was shot and killed when she tried to intercept Mr. Barnes' car as it fled a routine checkpoint where park visitors were checked to see if they had chains for their tires. At a point on the road above Longmire and about a mile from Paradise the ranger used her cruiser to block the road so she could stop the man shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday.
"The assailant jumped from his car and opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding Ranger Anderson. The assailant then fled on foot into the woods," another park spokeswoman, Lee Taylor, said Sunday evening.
When other rangers responded to the scene, they were prevented from reaching Ranger Anderson by the man, who kept them pinned down with gunfire from the woods, according to other park officials.
"It was about 90 minutes before they could reach her," Ms. Snook said Sunday afternoon.
The ranger, who became just the ninth ranger in Park Service history to be murdered in the line of duty, left behind a husband who also was a ranger in the park, and two young children, aged 2 and 4, according to park officials.
The more than 200 law enforcement personnel from the park, the FBI, and surrounding jurisdictions continued their manhunt into Sunday night, aided by a fixed-wing aircraft with forward-looking infrared to scan the ground, she said.
At Paradise, 125 park visitors who had come to Paradise to enjoy the day were moved for their safety into the Jackson Memorial Visitor Center along with 17 park staff.
"The visitor center has a restaurant to provide food, restrooms, and water, and law enforcement officers are on hand to provide protection," said Ms. Taylor.
Later Sunday evening they were escorted by authorities out of the park.
News reports out of Seattle said the man being sought was thought to have been involved in a shooting at a house there earlier Sunday, and that when authorities searched a car abandoned near Ranger Anderson they found it held survival gear and body armor.
In Washington, D.C., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Sunday that he was "deeply saddened by the tragic, horrific and cowardly murder today at Mount Rainier National Park."
"The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service will do everything possible to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice and to ensure the safety of park visitors and other park rangers," the secretary said in a prepared statement. "This tragedy serves as a reminder of the risks undertaken by the men and women of the National Park Service and law enforcement officers across the Department every day, and we thank them for their service. My thoughts and prayers are with Margaret's family in this difficult time."
Park Service Director Jon Jarvis called the ranger's murder "a heartbreaking, senseless tragedy."
"Margaret was just 34 years old. She and her husband Eric, who is also a Park Ranger at Mount Rainier, have two young children," he added. "Margaret was killed while doing her job: protecting the visiting public on one of the park’s busiest days of the year."
Over the years more than 200 Park Service staff have died or been killed on the job. Kris Eggle, a ranger at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2002 while pursuing suspected drug runners who were armed with AK-47s.