NPS Says It Could Not Have Prevented Murder Of Mount Rainier National Park Ranger

An internal review of the circumstances that led up to the fatal shooting of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger on New Year's Day concluded that the incident could not have been prevented.

The report into the murder of Margaret Anderson stated that Benjamin Barnes "came to the park well-armed and prepared to harm people, resulting in the tragic loss of a ranger who heroically acted to protect public safety."

“The courageous and decisive actions of the rangers prevented Benjamin Barnes from reaching the crowded Paradise area of the park and likely saved the lives of many park visitors and staff,” said Park Service Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz in a prepared statement that announced the report Thursday. “We still couldn’t have prevented this dangerous, disturbed and determined man from killing Ranger Anderson even if all of the recommendations that the (Internal Review) Board has made had been in place. Her murder is a tragic reminder of the risk all law enforcement officers face every day."

Ranger Anderson, a 34-year-old law enforcement ranger, was shot and killed when she tried to intercept Mr. Barnes' car as it fled a routine checkpoint where park visitors were checked to see if they had chains for their tires. At a point on the road above Longmire and about a mile from Paradise the ranger used her cruiser to block the road so she could stop the man shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday.

"The assailant jumped from his car and opened fire with a shotgun, fatally wounding Ranger Anderson. The assailant then fled on foot into the woods," park officials said at the time. When other rangers responded to the scene, they were prevented from reaching Ranger Anderson by the man, who kept them pinned down with gunfire from the woods, according to other park officials.

The ranger, who became just the ninth ranger in Park Service history to be murdered in the line of duty, left behind a husband who also was a ranger in the park, and two young children, aged 2 and 4, according to park officials.

Mr. Barnes, an Iraqi war veteran, was found dead from exposure the following afternoon in a drainage near one of the park's hallmark waterfalls just south of Paradise.

The Park Service's Board of Review was convened in mid-May "to examine the incident and identify any lessons that could be learned to enhance protection of park employees and the public. The Board consisted of law enforcement subject matter experts from around the country, both within and external to the National Park Service. The Board reviewed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s draft report, visited the site where the shooting occurred and interviewed people who were involved in the incident."

In its conclusions, finalized May 30, the "Board determined that the single causal factor in Anderson’s death was the direct action of Barnes. The Board also made recommendations to update policies and standard operating practices, evaluate and strengthen training, improve crisis communications infrastructure and capabilities, review current equipment, and explore law enforcement partnerships outside the park," a release from the regional office said.

"After a thorough review of the Board’s recommendations, the following recommendations are being implemented at the park immediately:

*"Update park law enforcement Standard Operating Procedures including those for critical incident management, use of force, and communicating during crises.

* "Ensure all law enforcement patrol vehicles are properly marked, according to Service standards.

* "Conduct training on critical incident response and critical incident stress management

* "Pursue the development of Memorandums of Understanding with local cooperating law enforcement agencies."

Some recommendations, such as evaluating the need for additional specialized training and updates to Service-wide policy, were referred to National Park Service headquarters for consideration.

Stephanie Burkhart, the assistant regional director for communications in the Pacific West office, said Thursday evening that the issue concerning vehicle markings had to do with the fact that some law enforcement vehicles at Mount Rainier weren't emblazoned with usual Park Service markings. As for the Standard Operating Procedures for law enforcement officers, she said those needed to be brought up to date.

She stressed, though, that neither of those matters had an influence on the attack on Ranger Anderson.

Comments

I do hope Ranger Anderson's family is healing as much as they can.

People think of national parks as being sacred and safe. For me, at least, living near the base of Mt. Rainier, this shooting really brought home for the first time that they're just like everywhere else, at least when it comes to safety.

It's disappointing, but not surprising, that the NPS chose not to make this report available to the public. It's also understandable that park staff would feel that Paradise was specifically targeted by this lunatic. I don't mean to minimize or disrespect Margaret's sacrifice, but I'm curious what evidence actually exists for this hypothesis.

All that's known from news accounts is that he was involved in shootings in town the previous day and had told people he was headed to California; this could have been misdirection. He apparently had no boots or winter gear with him. He probably would have attacked any LE officer who tried to stop him.

It's possible he was simply lost. Perhaps he was attempting to flee to skinhead sympathizers in Idaho and chose White Pass as the most remote crossing of the Cascade Mountains. Every winter for the past forty years I've seen downhill skiers dead-ended at Paradise, who failed to note the winter closures of the connecting roads to White Pass ski area.

I'm not sure what might have helped the situation short of having a SWAT team at the ready for this kind of unlikely circumstance. I don't know if she was wearing body armor, but that might have been something that could have helped.

From what I gathered from the reporting, she was able to call in after being hit, but couldn't be reached with the suspect continually firing at anyone trying to reach her. It might be speculation, but I would guess that she bled to death.

I really doubt most NPS LE (save the USPP SWAT team) is well equipped enough to handle someone this heavily armed. The perp had a long range assault shotgun with a high capacity magazine. Short of a large SWAT force, they'd simply be outgunned with their pump action shotguns and rifles.

I can't recall ever seeing an LE ranger without a vest.