by Bruce A. Smith
A press conference held in Ashford, Thursday, January 5, to discuss Mount Rainier National Park’s response to the fatal shooting of NPS Ranger Margaret Anderson on January 1, revealed the profound depth of grief caused by this tragedy in local residents, the area’s business community, and particularly in the park staff.
Ranger Anderson lost her life as she set up a road block to intercept a vehicle that failed to stop at a chain-up checkpoint on the road to the Paradise recreational area. Just below the Paradise Ranger Station the driver of the vehicle opened fire on Anderson, killing her, and then fled on foot into the woods.
Park Superintendent Randy King told the gathering that Ms. Anderson, 34, was a mother of two young children and is survived by her husband Eric, who is also a National Park Ranger at Mount Rainier. Margaret Anderson had worked the park for three years.
Superintendent King addressed the conference and shared a heartfelt and detailed account of what transpired during the shooting incident that took Ranger Anderson’s life, particularly the steps taken to safeguard the visitors trapped on the mountain as the park went into lock-down to search for and apprehend the suspect.
Emotions were close to the surface, and at several points Superintendent King had to stop and compose himself. At one point, his Chief of Interpretative Services, Lee Taylor, had to take over and lead the meeting.
More than the loss of a dear colleague was expressed, and Ms. Taylor called the incident a “desecration” of the mountain, which clearly brings so much joy and soulful nourishment to almost a million visitors each year. She said their goal was to “reclaim our park…and banish the evil from the mountain.”
The fifty or so community members assembled at the conference, held at the Nisqually Lodge in Ashford, applauded King and his staff during the meeting to express their appreciation for their dedication and skill in handling this tragedy.
Superintendent King, who only took his position in November, said that Mount Rainer was sealed immediately after the shooting and has remained closed since then, as first the search for the gunman was launched by “over one-hundred uniformed law enforcement officers.” Then, the park stayed closed as the investigation commenced, and the gates remained shut over the following days as supplemental staff and counseling experts arrived at the park to relieve fatigued staff and to help with their grieving and healing.
“It’s been tough” said the Superintendent before he lost his composure again, and others in the audience joined him in unabashed tears.
“It’s okay, Randy,” one audience member called out.
After a pause, King said that he would not open the park until he was certain his staff was able to function in a healthy and safe manner.
Ms. Taylor also spoke to this issue.
“We won’t swing those gates until we’re sure our people are ready,” she said, adding that that the staff valued the assistance delivered by the National Park Service’s Special Events Team and the NPS’ Stress Management Team, which are taking over many of the duties of a sleep-deprived and clearly grief-stricken Mt Rainer staff.
Mr. King expanded upon those comments:
“They’re taking over the day-today operations and allowing our people to recover, which means mostly getting a good night’s sleep – it’s been a couple of very high intensity days.”
King also said that the trauma experts were “peer counselors” and would be on site through next week.
A clear example of how the incident has impacted even the most mundane elements of business, Ms. Taylor was unable to immediately remember her work phone number in conversation after the meeting, pausing for a few moments to collect her thoughts and then recalling the number.
During the gathering, the Superintendent also praised the first responders for their immediate response. King said that 37 deputies from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department heeded Rainier’s call, along with 17 FBI agents, members of the Washington State Patrol and officers from the US Forest Service, and others, which included the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Customs and Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, and Pierce County and Lewis County Fire Districts. In addition, units from many municipal police departments responded, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Enumclaw and Snohomish County, along with K-9 units, helicopters, armored vehicles, and fixed-wings aircraft from other jurisdictions.
“It was a tremendous response,” King said.
He added that a unified command was established at Longmire and he praised how well the diverse group of law enforcement officers worked together.
Superintendent King also voiced a deep appreciation for the support of the community and especially those who fed nearly 200 hungry visitors evacuated off the mountain and lots of out-of-town law enforcement personnel.
King said that the approximately 125 visitors were protected at the visitors’ center at Paradise from Sunday noon until about 3:30 am when they were escorted from the park by law enforcement officers. Officials did confirm the identity of each visitor at Paradise out of a concern that the gunman had slipped into the tourist throng and could attempt an escape.
However, the body of the shooter, Benjamin Colton Barnes, was found dead Monday morning, lying face-down in the vicinity of Narada Falls.
In addition, about 25 visitors were rescued from the Longmire Inn.
Besides food and beds, local establishments also provided many kinds of necessary supplies, such as snow shoes for law enforcement, and “more than just a couple Junior Ranger coloring books for the kids,” said King.
The superintendent and his staff are currently preparing his staff to receive a flood of questions from a curious and caring public, and they are developing informational handouts to convey the necessary facts without an excessive outpouring of grief and re-living the event.
“The gates will swing open this Saturday at 8 am,” Superintendent King told the press conference. The park later announced that normal activities resumed Saturday without incident.
Because Ranger Margaret Anderson was a fully-licensed law enforcement officer, she is entitled to receive a formal police burial, which her family has requested. A National Park Service incident management team is working with law enforcement support groups, including the Behind the Badge Foundation to plan the memorial service, which is scheduled to be held at 1 pm Tuesday, January 10, on the grounds of Pacific Lutheran University. Along those lines, Superintendent King said the Anderson family has strong ties to the Lutheran faith community.
King said that the Secretary of the Interior will be at the memorial, as will many members of the National Park Service leadership from Washington, DC. In addition, many governmental leaders will also be in attendance.
The public is also invited.
Pacific Lutheran University is located in Parkland, just west of SR 7, and its address is:
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, WA 98328
However, attendance by NPS staff and law enforcement personnel is expected to exceed the capacity of the PLU venue. As a result, the public and other officials are asked to attend the service at the Rainier View Christian Church in Spanaway, which is being used as an overflow venue, where parking and a live video stream will be available.
The RVCC-Spanaway site is just west of the PLU campus:
Rainier View Christian Church
12305 Spanaway Loop Road
For more information on the memorial service: www.BehindTheBadgeFoundation.org .
In addition, the family of Ranger Anderson has made the following announcement via the NPS regarding the public’s desire to share their condolences and support in a more direct or personal manner:
“The husband, daughters, and family of Margaret Kritsch Anderson, the fallen Law Enforcement Ranger slain in the line of duty on January 1, 2012 at Mount Rainier National Park, extend their deepest gratitude and profound appreciation for all the expressions of sympathy, cards, meals and prayers upon the loss of our beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. We appreciate the opportunity to grieve in private.”
In addition, the family asks that donations be made in lieu of flowers. They should be sent to KeyBank, P.O. Box 159, Eatonville, WA 98328.
The NPS has announced that donations will help Maragaret Anderson’s husband, Eric, raise their two young girls, aged 1 and 3. Checks should be made out to the Margaret Anderson Donation Account.
In addition, The National Park Foundation has established a memorial fund to also benefit the children of Margaret and Eric Anderson: www.nationalparks.org/MargaretAnderson .
Further, those wishing to learn more about the incident, the park’s response, or to keep abreast of memorial service schedules and overflow locations: http://www.nps.gov/mora/parknews/newsreleases.htm .
© 2012 the Mountain News-WA