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20 May 2024

Gunman's body found after US park ranger killed


Police found Monday the body of an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing a US national park ranger, saying it appeared he died of exposure after fleeing into the forest.

A manhunt had been underway for 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, following the New Year's Day shooting in snow-covered Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.

His body was found in a river called Paradise Creek, wearing only a T-shirt, jeans, and one shoe -- and there appeared to be no external wounds, suggesting he likely died from exposure, police said.

"He appears to have not been the victim of any type of violence other than the weather," said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

The gunman allegedly killed 34-year-old ranger Margaret Anderson with a high-powered assault rifle after she set up a roadblock to corral the suspect who had sped away from an earlier traffic stop.

The mother-of-two, whose husband is also a ranger, had no chance, the police spokesman said.

"If I was sitting in that car or any one of us here, we'd be dead. There was nothing she could have done. There's no speculation on that," he told reporters at the entrance to the park.

A manhunt was launched immediately after the shooting, but it was scaled back overnight as the dark and wintry conditions made it difficult to search the 368-square mile national park in Washington state, south of Seattle.

Some 200 police and officials had resumed their manhunt at first light Monday, searching the park for the "armed and dangerous" suspect.

His body was eventually found above Narada Falls, a popular and scenic waterfall only about 1-1.5 miles from the site of the shooting "as the crow flies," said chief ranger Chuck Young.

Despite his military training, Barnes appeared to have boxed himself in shortly after the shooting, leaving himself no route to escape before nightfall and sub-zero temperatures set in.

"He put himself into a position where he wasn't going to get out of. They had containment on both ends of the valley. If he was still moving he wasn't going to get out," said Troyer.

All weapons have been recovered, and no shots were fired by anyone other than the suspect, officials said.

Barnes suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Seattle Times, which linked him to another shooting earlier Sunday in which four people were injured.

He was believed to have advanced survival and wilderness skills. A photo released by police shows him with a tattooed bare torso brandishing two large guns. The Seattle Times said he tried to commit suicide in January 2011.

A car with weapons, body armor, and survivalist gear was discovered, and a park spokeswoman said before his body was found that Barnes appeared "to be somebody who has some good knowledge of surviving and the wilderness."

According to local media outlet KOMO News, Barnes was also believed to be connected to a shooting earlier Sunday that injured four in Skyway, a community approximately 10 miles southeast of Seattle.

A popular destination for hikers and outdoors enthusiasts, Mount Rainier National Park boasts miles of hiking trails offering spectacular vistas of the 14,411-foot peak.

The park will remain closed on Tuesday as investigators continue to search the area, although park superintendent Randy King said he wants to reopen it as soon as possible.

The incident has eerie similarities to the 1992 movie "Rambo: First Blood," in which Sylvester Stallone plays a troubled Vietnam Vet who evades capture outside the fictional town of Hope, Washington.