A National Park Service ranger shot and killed in the line of duty Sunday morning in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state worked at the C&O Canal National Historical Park from 2004-08, park officials said Monday.
Ranger Margaret Anderson, 34, was killed when a gunman opened fire on her as she sat in her vehicle as part of a roadblock set up to stop a man who had blown through a checkpoint rangers use to determine if vehicles have tire chains for winter conditions, authorities said.
“Professionally, she was a consummate ranger. She had a tremendous passion for protecting the natural and historical resources of the park, but also the people,” C&O National Historical Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt said.
An armed man got out of his car at the roadblock and opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding Anderson, authorities said. Anderson would have been armed, as she was one of the rangers tasked with law enforcement, a parks spokesman said.
“She was a top-notch ranger and very professional. She was probably one of the sharpest rangers we had,” C&O Canal Chief Ranger Brad Clawson said. “This deeply saddens all of us.”
A plane searching the remote wilderness for the man suspected of shooting Anderson discovered the body of Benjamin Colton Barnes lying partially submerged in a mountain creek lined by deep snow and rugged terrain hours from where authorities could get to him.
“He was wearing a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and one tennis shoe. That was it,” Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, did not have any external wounds and appears to have died due to the elements, Troyer said. Two weapons were recovered, but Troyer declined to say where they were found.
Anderson, who had been a park ranger since 2000, began working at the C&O National Historical Park in 2004.
“She was a law enforcement ranger here. She worked in what we call the Palisades area,” between Sharpsburg and Great Falls, Va., said Clawson, who worked with Anderson for about six months before her transfer in 2008.
Anderson met her husband while they were working as rangers in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Eric Anderson was working as a ranger elsewhere in Mount Rainier National Park at the time of the shooting, park superintendent Randy King said.
Eric Anderson worked at Antietam National Battlefield before the couple was transferred to Mount Rainier, Brandt said.
“A lot of times in the Park Service, and the public, (we) take for granted that someone will be coming home at the end of the day,” Brandt said. “They were a terrific couple, and since they left, they’ve had two lovely daughters.”
According to police and court documents, Barnes had a troubled transition to civilian life, with accusations in a child-custody dispute that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following his Iraq deployments and was suicidal.
Immediately after the park shooting, police cleared out Mount Rainier of visitors and mounted a manhunt. Fear that tourists could be caught in the crossfire in a shootout with Barnes, who had survivalist training, prompted officials to hold more than 100 people at the visitors center before evacuating them in the middle of the night.
On New Year’s Day, there was an argument at a house party in Skyway, south of Seattle, and gunfire erupted, police said. Barnes was connected to the shooting, said Sgt. Cindi West, King County Sheriff’s spokeswoman.
Police believe Barnes headed to the remote park wilderness to “hide out” following the Skyway shooting.
“The speculation is that he may have come up here, specifically for that reason, to get away,” a parks spokesman said Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.