Washington Police are closing in on what they believe is the body of a suspected shooter who gunned down a national park ranger yesterday.
The Associated Press reported today that Mount Rainier National Park was closed while nearly 200 law enforcement officials scoured the wilderness for Benjamin Colton Barnes. Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, allegedly entered the park yesterday morning and sped past a checkpoint where park officials ensure vehicles entering it have tire chains for snow. Two park rangers tried stopping him, only for Barnes to allegedly shoot Ranger Margaret Anderson and flee into the park.
Kevin Bacher, a parks spokesman, told AP that police helped lock down the park last night so that authorities could search for Barnes. The park housed 125 people in its visitor center basement, he added, only for police to escort them to safety earlier this morning. As an extra precaution, he said police were traveling to the park's most remote areas and warning travelers that an armed and dangerous shooter was in the area.
Sgt. Cindi West, a spokeswoman for the King County Sheriff's Department, said that Barnes may have originally sought out the park given his alleged involvement in a New Year's house party south of Seattle. She said Barnes may have gotten in an argument over guns, then shot and injured four people, two of them critically. Calls and e-mails to the King County and Pierce County Sheriffs' offices for additional information were not returned by press time.
"The speculation is he threw some stuff in the car up and headed up here to hide out," Bacher told AP. "Somebody who knows what they're doing out here could certainly survive the night. If he had those skills and some of that gear, he could be very comfortable."
Barnes was noted for his survivalist skills. Washington State Patrol spokesman Guy Gill said that police had found a body believed to be Barnes face down in snow but hadn't identified it yet. He said that Barnes had trudged through chest-deep snow in an attempt to elude capture. Calls to the Washington State Patrol for additional comment were not returned by press time, and the body remains unidentified.
Barnes possibly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following deployments in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, according to AP. It said that he was involved in a Tacoma custody dispute in July, and that his child's mother had a temporary restraining order against him.
Randy King, the Park's superintendent, said that Anderson's death was a horrible tragedy so early in the New Year. Anderson had served at Mount Rainier for four years, he said, and has two daughters. The 34-year-old mother was also married to another ranger in the park.
"It's just a huge tragedy – for the family, the park and the park service," King said.