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January 1, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Park ranger's killing may be connected to Skyway shooting; suspect still at large

Updated at  7:15 p.m.

 

By Craig Welch, Steve Miletich, Mike Carter and Carol Pucci

 

Seattle Times staff reporters

 

Benjamin Colton Barnes

A 34-year-old park ranger was fatally shot Sunday morning in Mount Rainier National Park after a routine traffic stop led to a chase up the road near Paradise. The gunman — a suspect in an earlier shooting in King county — remained at large, triggering a massive manhunt.

 

Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, a mother of two who was married to another park ranger, was shot about 10:30 a.m. after setting up a roadblock to stop the fleeing suspect.

 

Authorities said it took 90 minutes for backup to reach Anderson because the assailant continued shooting at law enforcement as they arrived.

 

The killing appears to be related to an early morning shooting in Skyway in which a man and woman were critically injured and two other men wounded during a house party, according to Sgt. Cindi West of the King County Sheriff’s Department.

 

In this photo provided by the Pierce County Sheriff's Dept., Benjamin Colton Barnes, is shown with a tattoo that reads "Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust." (AP Photo/Pierce County Sheriff's Dept.)

A man fled that house after the 3 a.m. shooting, West said.

 

The car involved in the national park shooting was registered to a man being sought in the Skyway shooting, 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes. He is described as a “person of interest” in the park shooting, according to Washington State Patrol spokesman Guy Gill.

 

Mount Rainier spokesman Kevin Bacher said authorities found weapons, body armor and survivalist gear in the vehicle.

 

A tactical team was attempting to following the suspect’s tracks and more than 100 law enforcement officers, including some from Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife were coordinating the hunt.

 

“We’re talking about a subject that has an advantage,” Gill said. “He’s barricaded down in the woods, armed. It puts officers at a disadvantage. It requires a lot of planning.”

 

About 86 park visitors and 20 or so employees were still locked down at the Jackson Visitors Center at Paradise as of about 4:45 p.m., but visitors below at Longmire had been allowed to leave.

 

Ranger Margaret Anderson

“It’s really not safe right now,” said park spokeswoman Lee Taylor. “We’ve got a guy on the loose with a gun and he’s obviously willing to use it.”

 

The incident started about 10:15 a.m., Taylor said, when park rangers attempted to pull over a vehicle on the road just above Longmire. The car kept going.

 

When officers radioed that the suspect failed to stop, Anderson, in another vehicle, set up a roadblock by pulling her car across the road a mile or so south of Paradise at a pull out known as Barns Flat.

 

“He just jumped out and shot her,” Taylor said.

 

A maintenance worker and his colleague had been driving up the road toward Paradise when they heard on the park’s radio system that rangers were chasing what appeared to be a blue Pontiac the same direction. They pulled over and let the car and law-enforcement officer pass them, the worker said.

“As soon as they went by, we pulled out and started to follow,” said Steve Young, who was in the passenger seat. “At that point we heard they had an officer who was coming down who was going to try and stop the vehicle from above.”

 

Young said the ranger’s vehicle was around a corner about 100 yards ahead of them, when he heard at least five shots. Suddenly, the ranger’s vehicle he’d been following started backing down.

 

“His windows were shot out and he started backing down the road,” Young said by phone from Longmire.

 

Lisa Pyle, from Auburn, said she and her husband Derek Pyle were on their way up because their daughter had been camping at Paradise, but a ranger turned them away. They saw a ranger’s car near the visitors center with three bullet holes through the windshield. Their daughter and other guests were locked down inside the park.

 

“We have a ton of police here,” said a volunteer Park Service guide in Longmire. “They’re everywhere. A lot of people are camping in the backcountry. What happened here happened pretty quickly.”

 

Ed Troyer, a Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman, told The Associated Press that his department received a report around 11:30 a.m. of shots fired. When authorities arrived, he said, they also encountered gunfire, but no one else was hit.

 

In Skyway, sheriff’s deputies received a 911 call about a shooting around 3 a.m., according to Sgt. Cindi West, spokeswoman for the department.

 

Deputies arrived at the home to find three men and a woman had been shot. All four were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

 

Witnesses told the deputies that a man had been at a party at the home earlier in the evening and was asked to leave after an argument. The man returned, and began firing a gun at people in the home.

 

At least one person at the party appears to have returned fire, West said.

 

Children were in the home at the time but none were injured, West said. West said all of the victims were in their 20s, and the victims knew the shooter.

 

Mount Rainier had never before had an officer shot and killed in the line of duty, said Lee Snook, a public information officer with the Park Service.

 

Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, both worked at Rainier for about four years. Their two children were described by federal authorities as ages 4 and 1.

 

Margaret Anderson’s mother-in-law, Cynthia Anderson, of Hanson, Mass., said the oldest, Anna, was born on Feb. 14, 2008, making her 3. The youngest, Katie, will turn 2 in May.

 

Eric Anderson has been left “devastated” by his wife’s slaying, said Cynthia Anderson.

 

“Margaret is just a wonderful, wonderful young lady,” her mother-in-law, , said in a telephone interview.

 

In this photo taken Dec. 31, 2011, Margaret Anderson, right, a law enforcement ranger at Mount Rainier National Park works at the Paradise snow play area in Mount Rainier, Wash. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Dean J. Koepfler)

The couple, who lived in Eatonville, met when both worked as park rangers at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Anderson said, her voice choking with emotion.

 

They then moved to Harpers Ferry, W. Va., where they worked nearby in different parks, Anderson said.

 

The couple became engaged in December 2004, according to a wedding announcement in The Westfield Leader and The Scotch Plains – Fanwood Times of New Jersey.

 

About four years ago, they got the opportunity to work in the same park at Mount Rainier, Anderson said.

 

“That is why they decided to go out there,” Anderson said. “It’s beautiful out there.”

 

Their dream was to work together and raise a family, Anderson said.

 

“They’re both very outdoorsy,” Anderson said. “Andvery religious, too,” Anderson said, explaining that both are Lutherans and that Margaret Anderson is the daughter of a Lutheran minister.

 

A woman who answered the phone at the home of Margaret Anderson’s parents, the Rev. Paul and Dorothy Kritsch of Scotch Plains, N.J., said Sunday the family was too distraught to talk.

 

Anderson said the her son and daughter-in-law were “thrilled” about their life.

 

“They have a home, two beautiful girls,” Anderson said.

 

The couple’s next-door neighbor, Adam Norton, said the Anderson family had only lived in Eatonville for about a year, but said he regularly saw Margaret walking with her little girls.

 

“You could tell they really adore those kids,” Norton said. “Margaret was always outside with the girls pushing the youngest around in the stroller while the other girl was on her bike.”

 

Rangers have one of the most widely varying jobs at Mount Rainier. As the park’s front line law-enforcement officers, they drive lonely rural roads by themselves and do everything from issue speeding tickets to respond to car accidents to arrest lawbreakers. But they also hike trails, respond to fires and are some of the first called out to search for lost or injured visitors. During winter, rangers may even help set up signs and prepare recreation spots for snowshoers.

 

The park has about 15 law-enforcement officers at this time of year, said  Snook.

Carol Pucci reported from Mount Rainier National Park. News researcher David Turim and reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report. Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @craigawelch.

Comments | More in General news, The Blotter | Topics: park ranger, park ranger's slaying, Pierce County Sheriff's Office

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