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Body identified as man sought in Mount Rainier park ranger shooting

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:43 PM EST, Mon January 2, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Benjamin Colton Barnes, the suspected killer, previously was charged with DUI
  • "There was no obvious sign of death" besides the cold, a sheriff's spokesman adds
  • Barnes had been a communicator in the U.S. Army, an FBI agent says
  • Authorities say he fatally shot a Mount Rainier park ranger on New Year's Day

Mount Rainier National Park (CNN) -- National park officials said Monday afternoon that the man found dead in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park is Benjamin Colton Barnes, the suspect in the shooting death of park ranger Margaret Anderson the previous day.

Barnes was found around 10:45 a.m. Monday, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and lying face-down in a creek near the base of a waterfall in an area popular among hikers. Search teams reached him and positively identified him later Monday, Chief Ranger Chuck Young said.

Authorities had launched a massive manhunt across steep, snow-covered and wooded terrain for the 24-year-old Army veteran following the fatal New Year's Day shooting of park ranger Margaret Anderson.

"It's nothing you ever hope to experience, but here it is," park superintendent Randy King said of Anderson's death. "Indications are that this person stepped out and opened fire, so I don't think she had much of a chance."

Barnes also was wanted in connection with a shooting Sunday in the Seattle suburb of Skyway that left four people wounded, CNN affiliates reported, citing the King County sheriff's department.

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All the weapons that Barnes had with him when he allegedly shot Anderson and then fled are believed to be accounted for, said Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the Pierce County sheriff's department.

Authorities expressed confidence that the danger is over now that Barnes has been found dead. Still, the park remains closed, as it has been since Sunday.

"We do not plan on reopening the park (Tuesday), there's still enough going on as far as the investigation," King said, adding only that officials will reopen the expansive park "as soon as we possibly can."

"We're going to need a little time to regroup," he added.

The park shooting began with "a normal traffic stop" about 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Lee Taylor said.

Rangers had set up a checkpoint between the Longmire and Paradise areas in the park to ensure that drivers had the proper tires and tire chains for their vehicles, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said. The gunman's vehicle "blew through that checkpoint and didn't stop," he said.

The ranger at the checkpoint pursued the vehicle, which was traveling at high speed, and called other rangers for backup, Bacher said.

Anderson, who was at Paradise, moved her patrol vehicle into position to serve as a roadblock. Dan Camiccia, another ranger, also responded, and "they confronted him together," Bacher said.

King, the park superintendent, explained that the rangers "made a conscious decision to (stop Barnes), so he wouldn't get into the middle of a parking lot, where you've got hundreds of visitors potentially."

Park ranger Margaret Anderson, 34, was fatally shot in Washington\'s Mount Rainier National Park on Sunday.
Park ranger Margaret Anderson, 34, was fatally shot in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park on Sunday.

The suspect "pulled up, did a U-turn, jumped out and fired on the two ranger vehicles and shot them through their vehicles," according to Bacher. Camiccia was not hit, but Anderson was shot in her vehicle. Anderson apparently did not have a chance to draw her weapon.

"If I was sitting in that car or anyone here, we would be dead. There's nothing she could have done," said Troyer, from the Pierce County sheriff's department. "That guy had something ... high-powered enough that, from any amount of distance, nobody is going to win that gunfight."

Camiccia put his vehicle into reverse and left the scene as the gunman abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot into the forest, Bacher said.

Anderson, 34, managed to alert Pierce County sheriff's deputies that she had been shot. Deputies "tried to get to her, and they were fired upon," Troyer said. "They managed to get a small team together to get to her and get her out of the line of fire." By the time medics reached her, she was dead.

The gunman ran into the park, whose border is about 50 miles southeast of Seattle, authorities said. The park -- the centerpiece being 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, which is considered an active volcano -- covers 235,625 acres in the Cascade Range.

Investigators found evidence of weapons and body armor in the gunman's car, Troyer said. FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Dean said Monday that "a couple" of weapons were also recovered outside the vehicle, some of them close to Barnes' body.

Authorities used helicopters equipped with infrared cameras and an airplane armed with flares in the overnight search, said Sgt. Tom Martin of the Washington State Patrol. More than 150 local, state and federal law enforcement officers were involved in the search, said authorities.

Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was a \
Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was a "person of interest" in the shooting of park ranger Margaret Anderson.

Another challenge for Barnes and the searchers was that much of the park is covered in 4 to 5 feet of snow. Authorities believe that the suspect took a roundabout route before ending up where he did, between 1 and 1.5 miles from where Anderson was shot.

Barnes was found in a river wearing a T-shirt, pair of jeans and one tennis shoe, according to Troyer. Chief Ranger Chuck Young said temperatures dipped into the low 30s in that area.

"There's no obvious sign of death other than being really cold on a mountain all night, in freezing water," Troyer said. "The condition he was in, the clothing he had on him, he was not equipped to make it a night or two in the winter conditions that were up there."

Dean said that Barnes had been a communicator, working with radios, while in the Army and did not appear to have any special wilderness training. He'd been found guilty of drunken driving in 2009, the same year a hit-and-run charge against him was dismissed with prejudice, according to a background report.

A medical examiner looked at his body Monday at the scene, before it was to be transported out of the park.

The woman he allegedly killed, Anderson, was the mother of 4-year-old and a 1-year-old daughters, Taylor said.

A ranger at Mount Rainier for four years along with her husband and fellow park ranger Eric, Anderson "was on the job not for money or for glory but out of a love for wild places and the national parks," Taylor said.

"She was a person with a quick smile, a very gentle person, a very competent ranger," Taylor said. "This gunman took the life of somebody who had a great deal to live for and was making great contributions to society by being a national park ranger."

CNN's Patrick Oppmann, Adam Shivers, Chelsea J. Carter, Carol Cratty and Ashley Hayes contributed to this report.

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