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Suspect in shooting of park ranger near Mount Rainer is found dead

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

SEATTLE — A troubled veteran of the war in Iraq suspected in the fatal shooting of a park ranger was found dead Monday near a steep, snowy slope not far from Mount Rainier, ending an intense, 24-hour manhunt that left tourists locked down in fear at a visitors center while 200 law-enforcement officers combed the wilderness with snowshoes, dogs and planes.

“They believe it was one person, and that one person has been found dead. So as far as that goes, it’s over,” Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Lee Snook said.

The dramatic standoff during the height of the region’s busy holiday ski season concluded when authorities confirmed that Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, whose abandoned car was found near the scene of Sunday’s fatal shooting of park ranger Margaret Anderson, had been found near Narada Falls, not far from where the original shots were fired.

But Anderson’s killing was probably not the beginning of Barnes’ deadly odyssey: Authorities believe the former Army private may have been headed into the wilderness to evade capture after a shootout at a New Years Eve party several hours earlier in which four people were injured.

He was wearing only jeans, a T-shirt and one shoe, and likely died of exposure, Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said.

Park guests were evacuated or put on lockdown while more than 100 tourists at the park’s Paradise visitor’s center were herded inside and ordered to kneel with their hands behind their heads to confirm the gunman was not among them before being sequestered in the center until the early hours of Monday morning.

They were evacuated to safety under cover of darkness, hours before Barnes’ body was initially located by an overflying aircraft equipped with thermal detection equipment.

Park officials said Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two, was on patrol when she was called to establish a roadblock to halt a suspect who had blown through a safety checkpoint.

As she placed her vehicle across the road about a mile below the visitor’s center, park ranger Dan Camiccia drove in to join her from another location. A man, whom authorities now are confident was Barnes, approached the roadblock, swept into a U-turn and emerged firing at both ranger vehicles. Anderson was fatally wounded, but Camiccia was able to escape, though his vehicle was shot through the windshield.

“He put his vehicle in reverse and backed out of there,” park spokesman Kevin Bacher said. As for Anderson, he said, “She was shot in her vehicle before she even had a chance to get out.”

Barnes, he said, left his car and fled into the forest.

Other rangers and a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department special weapons and tactics team soon arrived, but were prevented from approaching Anderson’s vehicle. “It took them about 90 minutes to secure the situation enough to get Margaret out,” Bacher said. “The shooter was up there still and was firing on the people who were attempting to get Ranger Anderson and help her.”

On Monday flags at the park flew at half-staff, and federal officials extended condolences to the family of Anderson, whose husband is also a ranger. “The FBI and the law enforcement community want Ranger Anderson’s family to know we honor her for making the ultimate sacrifice in her effort to enable the public to enjoy the beauty of Mount Rainier and the environment she was sworn to protect,” Laura Laughlin, head of the FBI’s Seattle office, said in a statement.

King County Sheriff’s Department officials say Barnes first came to the attention of law enforcement officials in the wake of a New Years Eve party in Skyway, Wash., in which several party guests were apparently showing off their weapons before a shootout broke out.

Three people left the scene; two of those interviewed by police said Barnes was the third, and sheriff’s officials were attempting to find him when his car was identified at the scene of Anderson’s shooting.

Barnes’ former girlfriend, Nicole Santos, had sought protection in 2011 for the couple’s young daughter from Barnes, who she said suffered from stress following his deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

The Army’s human resources command said Barnes served with the 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq and was granted a general discharge under honorable conditions in November 2009 after facing charges for driving under the influence and transporting a privately owned weapon improperly.

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