Iraqi War vet Benjamin Colton Barnes was believed to have killed a park ranger and wounded four others

By Howard Breuer
Updated January 02, 2012 01:00 PM
Credit: Pierce County Sheriff/AP

Police said remains believed to be that of suspected killer Benjamin Colton Barnes have been found in Mount Rainier National Park, though the body has yet to be officially identified.

Police searching the area on Monday discovered a white man with his face down in the snow and no heat signature, reports the Associated Press, which quotes authorities as saying the man apparently died after trudging into chest-deep snow while trying to elude SWAT team members and other law enforcement officers.

Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, was a person of interest in the Sunday morning killing of Margaret Anderson, a park ranger and mother of two. Police said Barnes was also a suspect in a prior shooting at a house party in Skyway, Wash., that left four people wounded.

While the search was on for Barnes, Mt. Rainier became the scene of a real-life Rambo-type standoff as approximately 200 searchers scoured the rough, snowy terrain looking for him.

The combined forces of the Washington State Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, a sheriff’s SWAT team outfitted with snowshoes and the FBI combed the park both by heat-sensitive aircraft and on foot Monday as Barnes fled through creeks and waterways to avoid being tracked in the chest-deep snow, says Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer.

Evacuating Visitors

Overnight, authorities evacuated 125 visitors at the park’s visitor station under cover of darkness. Evacuee Dinh Jackson, who was sledding with friends, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that officials had everyone get on their knees and place their hands behind their heads to make sure the gunman was not among them.

“That was scary for the kids,” she said.

Barnes, a heavily tattooed National Guard reservist who served in Iraq in 2007-2008, wass suspected in a 3 a.m. shooting at a New Year’s Eve party in Skyway, Wash., that started with an argument over a gun. Barnes allegedly wounded four people, two of them critically, then apparently loaded his car with high-end weapons, survival gear and body armor, then sought refuge in the 368-sq.-mi. park.

Opened Fire on Woman

At 10:20 Sunday morning, Barnes sped past a tire-chain checkpoint at the park. One ranger followed as another, Margaret Anderson, 34, used her car to create a new roadblock. Barnes allegedly opened fire with a shotgun before Anderson could react, Troyer says.

“He immediately made a U-turn, came out and opened fire on her,” Troyer says. “Multiple rounds in the side of her car – she didn’t have a chance, she never even exited the vehicle.”

As other officers arrived, Barnes allegedly fired at them with a long rifle, keeping them at bay for 90 minutes as Anderson lay dying. Anderson was the mother of two daughters, ages 2 and 4, and married to another ranger who was stationed elsewhere in the park during the shooting.

Barnes was involved in a custody dispute in Tacoma in July 2011. In court papers, the toddler’s mother sought a restraining order, saying Barnes was suicidal and possibly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said he gets easily irritated, angry and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons at home.