by Bruce A. Smith
As befitting her status as a licensed police officer, Ranger Margaret Anderson received a stately and precise funerary service on Tuesday, January 10. Held at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, the memorial was attended by dozens of family and friends, and over 3,700 members of law enforcement from jurisdictions throughout Washington and neighboring sates, and included nearly one-hundred Royal Canadian Mounted Police who honored Margaret’s birthplace of Toronto.
Ranger Anderson was shot and killed in the line of duty on January 1, 2012, just below the Paradise Ranger Station when she intercepted a motorist who had evaded a chain-up check point lower down on the mountain at Longmire. For unknown reasons the driver open fire and after a ninety minute stand-off, the shooter, Benjamin Barnes fled into the forest and later died of exposure. Many of the over-125 visitors at Paradise during the incident have claimed that Ranger Anderson saved their lives by making her heroic intervention away from the crowded tourist area.
Ranger Anderson, 34, is survived by her husband, Eric and their two young girls. Eric Anderson is also a Ranger at Mount Rainier and was on duty at the time of his wife’s death.
Margaret’s family chose PLU for the site of the funeral due to their long-standing roots in the Lutheran faith community, and the service took place in the Olsen Auditorium. The gathering attracted so many attendees that overflow crowds were accommodated at the Langerquist Music Hall on the PLU campus and also at the Trinity Church in Parkland and the Rainier View Christian Church in Spanaway.
Ms. Anderson’s father, Paul Kritsch, has been a Lutheran minister for the past forty years, and currently is the pastor of a church in New Jersey. In addition, several parts of the memorial service were delivered by Margaret’s local pastor, Galen Gallimore of the Lutheran Church in Spanaway, who described Margaret as a “woman of light, of joy, and of beauty.”
Officiating the service was Pastor Joe Koehler of the Faith Baptist Church in Ashford, and a man who was both a family friend and a colleague, as he is a member of Fire District 23, which serves the national park.
After the wail of bagpipes faded, delivered by the Seattle Police Department’s Pipe and Drum Corps as part of the opening ceremonies, Pastor Koehler introduced Pastor Gallimore, who offered a simple prayer of appreciation and hope.
Next, Margaret’s father offered a stirring remembrance.
“What you saw last weekend was not an anomaly – that was Margaret,” Pastor Kritsch said.
Kritsch described his daughter as a woman of profound faith, such that she felt the love of God so keenly that she was able to love people in return and serve as a police officer “keeping the world safe from chaos.”
In a lighter moment, he also described the joys of Margaret’s life – her delight in painting, her profound love of wilderness, and her love of her husband Eric and their two daughters, aged 3 and 1.
Pastor Kritsch also delved into theological questions raised by his daughter’s death.
“Where was Jesus on January 1?” he asked, and then he answered: “He was there…working through Margaret to save others…and when her life was yanked away he brought her home to heaven…and right now He is here with us.”
The public is also represented at these law enforcement funeral services, and Ranger Anderson’s memorial was attended by Governor Chris Gregoire, and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
However, the most prominent public figure might have been Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, and as such he represented over 75,000 federal employees, with more than a third being members of the National Park Service.
Salazar spoke as a member of the national park family, and characterized work in the NPS as a personal commitment. Salazar spoke at length and praised Ranger Anderson.
“Our nation has lost a good and brave Ranger…who served with faith and compassion…and who saw the beauty of God’s grace in creatures large and small,” said Salazar.
He further described Margaret as a “Ranger who followed her heart.”
Salazar asked that the family accept his condolences “for your comfort and peace” and said that his department would honor Margaret by “carrying out the proud mission of the National Park Service…by preserving God’s bounty for all people and for all time.”
Secretary Salazar also shared a letter of condolences from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which said in part,” Our nation is gratified by those who risk their lives to protect others.”
Later, in a moving ceremony Mr. Salazar presented the family with the flag from Margaret’s casket.
Following the Secretary’s remarks, a short video clip of Margaret’s life was shown, and the tears flowed as a splendid life was displayed in its full glory – rock climbing in Bryce Canyon, playful times with family, weddings and parties with friends and close ones, and somber scenes showing her obvious dedication to America’s scenic beauty. Accompanying the visuals were Allan Jackson’s “Remember When” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will.”
Margaret Anderson was clearly an All-American gal – quiet, yet substantive, and lovin’ country music.
Further capping her life’s celebration was a trumpet rendition of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” delivered by Clark County Sheriff deputy Mike Evans in tribute to Margaret’s own trumpeting performances in high school. Poignantly, Margaret played the same song on her trumpet at her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary.
Afterwards, the Director of the National Parks Service, and former Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, Jonathan Jarvis spoke.
Jarvis said that keeping visitors safe is the top priority for all rangers and that Margaret did just that at Paradise “on a sunny, Sunday morning.”
Jarvis also shared remarks from a Jeremy Best, one of those visitors at Paradise when Margaret went in to action.
“She saved my life,” Jarvis declared for Mr. Best.
Jarvis also asked the Anderson family to receive the condolences he offered on behalf of the 25,000 employees of the National Parks Service, many of whom were watching the proceeding via a video feed nation-wide.
“I want to assure you that Margaret will never be forgotten,” he said, and as he concluded his remarks a memorial banner that read “Ranger Margaret Anderson” was placed on the official NPS flag mounted on the podium.
Margaret’s immediate boss, Mount Rainer Superintendent Randy King spoke next, and he described Margaret’s legacy as a solid and dependable Ranger.
“She worked with a quiet competence,” King said, adding that she was viewed by her colleagues as a Ranger “focused, sensitive and compassionate, and who had the greatest integrity.”
King also spoke passionately about the value of Margaret’s sacrifice.
“Lives were saved – that I know,” said the Superintendent, adding that a “further desecration of a sacred place was averted.”
Perhaps the most moving address, and certainly the most touching and revealing, was delivered by Ranger Robert Danno, who was Margaret’s first boss when she entered the park service in 2002 as a temporary ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah .
“When I first met her at her interview, I tried hard not to stare at her birthmark,” he said unabashedly, offering a measure of relief for many of us struck with embarrassment seeing pictures of her with a prominent facial mark.
Danno further explained that Margaret’s view of her “calling” to serve in the national parks as a ranger was so compelling, so rooted in her “core values” of integrity, grace and commitment that not only did he hire her, “she made me want to be a better man.”
Ranger Danno said that Margaret “projected an uncommon humanity” and he called her “the best of the best.”
“We wanted her respect,” Danno added, who worked with Margaret for three years and saw her perform superbly in a variety of challenging situations, such as medical emergencies, fire control and handling the needs of the public.
“We share Eric’s grief, but also his pride,” said Danno, and through a flood of tears he choked out: “Margaret will always be my hero – in life and death.”
After the memorial service, Director Jarvis and Superintendent King held a press conference to discuss some of the details of Margaret’s death and the impact to the National Parks Service and Mount Rainier.
Jarvis and King said that besides being an effective and fearless Ranger, Margaret was also an emergency medical expert and headed the Mount Rainier EMT team. Further, she organized Mount Rainier’s Mass Casualties Training Exercise a couple years ago that coordinated many inter-agency responses to a major catastrophe, such as tour bus accident or volcanic eruption.
Superintendent King also said that an appropriate and permanent memorial will be constructed in honor of Margaret, but the site and exact nature of its design will be decided in the near future. King also said that one consideration is how to properly honor all fallen rangers, and Margaret’s death is the first to occur by violence. However, in the 1990s two climbing rangers died on Mount Rainer during a mountaineering rescue.
As for changes in park policies and procedures in light of Margaret’s death, Director Jarvis said that there would be a “complete and thorough review of the incident, even down to the minor details.”
Jarvis added that the NPS’s current policy is for senior leadership to conduct that level of intense investigation on all “line of duty deaths” including accidents.
Jarvis also said that the NPS doesn’t have “hard and fast” policies to commemorate line of duty deaths, but added that the department has suffered many staff fatalities from search and rescue operations nationwide, and that all those individuals need to be honored in a more public and formal manner. Currently, these individuals are memorialized on a “Wall of Honor” in NPS headquarters in Washington, DC, and Jarvis indicated that a public memorial is warranted.
In terms of making interventions with armed and dangerous visitors, in particular the long history of Mount Rainier and surrounding wilderness areas as a magnet for combat vets who can’t tolerate society upon their return from deployment, both King and Jarvis, along with Mt Rainier’s Chief of Interpretative Services Lee Taylor, addressed this potent subject.
Ms. Taylor said that the NPS is developing a “Wounded Warrior” program, which enlists returning vets to work on special projects in the park system, such as building trails and bridges, and assists vets in obtaining employment. In addition, special climbing programs exist for physically disabled vets to summit Mt Rainier and engage in other high-challenge endeavors throughout the national parks.
Jarvis added that in World War II, Mt Rainier and Yosemite National Parks were closed to the public and turned into rehabilitative sites for recovering vets.
“They opened up the Lodge at Paradise and Ahwahnee Lodge – they were filled,” said Jarvis, who added that the greatest surge in visitors and in acquisitions in the history of the National Parks Service was in the years immediately after WW II.
Lastly, both King and Jarvis stressed that Mt Rainier and the other national parks are “incredibly safe,” and that incidents such as the one that caused Margaret Anderson’s death are exceptionally rare.
© 2012 The Mountain News-WA
Note: All interior shots of the memorial service are presented courtesy of Joe Barrentine of The New Tribune, as per agreement with the media pool.