January 2, 2012 by staff
Mount Rainier, A Mount Rainier National Park ranger was fatally shot following a New Year’s Day traffic stop, and the 368-square-mile park in Washington state was closed as dozens of officers searched for the armed gunman over snowy and rugged terrain.
Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said late Sunday afternoon Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old believed to have survivalist skills, was a “strong person of interest” in the slaying of Margaret Anderson. A parks spokesman said Barnes was an Iraq war veteran, and the mother of his child had alleged he suffered from post-traumatic stress following his deployments. Authorities recovered his vehicle, which had weapons and body armor inside, Troyer said.
Barnes was also a suspect in the early Sunday morning shooting of four people at a house party south of Seattle, police said.
Authorities believed the gunman was still in the woods, with weapons. They asked people to stay away from the park, and for those already inside to leave.
“We do have a very hot and dangerous situation,” Troyer said.
Early Monday, dozens of tourists who were stranded at a park visitors center began leaving under a safety escort.
Around 12:30 a.m. PST, officers used the cover of darkness to begin evacuating some of the 125 people who had remained inside a visitors center for their safety amid the manhunt.
Crews had initially planned to keep everyone quarantined in a basement with guards. But Troyer said it was later determined to be “better to do it under the cover of darkness than daylight.”
All the visitors are expected to be out by 4 a.m., if not sooner.
Tactical responders wearing crampons and snowshoes were pursuing what appeared to be the gunman’s tracks in the snow, Troyer said. Those tracks went into creeks and other waterways, making it more difficult for crews to follow.
“He’s intentionally trying to get out of the snow,” Troyer said.
Meanwhile, an aircraft with heat-sensing capabilities was scanning overhead, Troyer said.
Barnes was involved in a custody dispute in Tacoma in July 2011, during which the toddler’s mother sought a temporary restraining order against him, according to court documents. In an affidavit, the woman wrote that Barnes was suicidal and possibly suffered from PTSD after deploying to Iraq in 2007-2008. She said he gets easily irritated, angry and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home.
The park would remain closed Monday, officials announced late Sunday.
Jason Simpson, 29, of Kent, said his parents were still trapped at the visitor’s center after traveling to the mountain for a day hike. His parents were able to make a call explaining their situation, and Simpson drove to the park entrance to wait.
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