Update: A body found in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park is that of an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing a park ranger, then fleeing into the wilderness, authorities said.
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The year got off to a tragic start for the National Park Service family. Park Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot to death on Sunday while on duty at Mount Rainier National Park. And now, the idyllic park has become the setting for a manhunt as police, FBI, SWAT teams, and heat-seeking helicopters search the area for the suspected gunman.
Washington area police spokesperson Ed Troyer told reporters that Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old with "survivalist skills," was a strong person of interest in Ranger Anderson's death. A park spokesman said Barnes was an Iraq war veteran. The mother of his toddler had recently filed for a restraining order against Barnes, stating that he suffered from post-traumatic stress following his deployments and was possibly suicidal. Barnes was also a suspect in a shooting that occurred early Sunday morning (Dec. 1) of four people at a house party south of Seattle, police said.
That could be why Barnes sped past a checkpoint that was set up to ensure vehicles have tire chains — a requirement for traversing Mount Rainier's snowy roads. One ranger began following him while Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two young children, set up a road block to stop the driver. Anderson was shot to death before she had a chance to exit her vehicle. Barnes also shot at the other ranger who was following him, but that ranger was not hurt.
As of this writing, authorities believe that Barnes is still armed and at large in the Mount Rainier woods. They asked people to stay away from the park, and for those already inside to leave. Park officials helped visitors evacuate the park last night and all were expected to be out by 4 a.m. if not sooner.
"We do have a very hot and dangerous situation," Troyer said.
My condolences go out today to the family of Park Ranger Anderson and to the entire park service family at Mount Rainier. My only hope is that this situation can be resolved quickly and without the loss of any more innocent lives.