FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

ESS Crossbow Photochromic Ballistic Eyeshield - ESS Eyepro
The ESS Crossbow Photochromic eyeshield is created using Transition Optics...

Web Only : Extra

Inside the Manhunt for the Ranger Killer

A law enforcement dragnet led by tactical teams found a ranger's killer in the snowy, rugged terrain of Mount Rainer National Park.

January 05, 2012  |  by

Photo: PCSD
Photo: PCSD

Locating the killer of a Mount Rainer National Park ranger proved no easy task for the Pierce County (Wash.) Sheriff's SWAT team, a tactical squad that navigated a grueling, two-day manhunt in the remote, snow-packed mountains of the Pacific Northwest.

The 18-operator team got the initial call of a ranger down and a gunman on the loose in a park where wintry beauty is defined by glaciers, mountain meadows, and sub-alpine ecology. The call came in at about 10 a.m. on New Year's Day, a Sunday.

The night before, 24-year-old Benjamin Barnes spent his New Year's Eve shooting up a party south of Seattle in Skyway. Barnes had stocked his car with hunting rifles, combat rifles, packs of ammunition, loaded magazines, and soft body armor. The Iraq War veteran had been locked in an acrimonious custody battle with Nicole Santos over their 1-year-old daughter. Barnes sent several disturbing text messages to Santos during the year, including the July note, "I want to die."

Clearly, Barnes had a bad year in 2011, and 2012 would go south fast. After shooting up the party, Barnes drove into the national park and eventually reached Paradise, a tourist-favorite spot that offers access to massive waterfalls and snow-shoeing for adventurous visitors. He then drove to a checkpoint requiring snow chains for all vehicles. Barnes blew the checkpoint and began firing rounds at a ranger who pursued him. The ranger radioed for assistance, which came in the form of Ranger Margaret Anderson, an 11-year veteran of the National Park Service.

Anderson responded to the assistance call, setting up a roadway blockade with her vehicle, as Barnes raced toward her. Barnes stopped his vehicle, got out, and opened fire, hitting Anderson several times. He then turned and opened fire at the pursuing ranger, hitting his vehicle several times with rifle rounds. Barnes then disappeared into the woods.

The initial responding ranger and sheriff's deputies located the three vehicles at an elevation of 3,000 feet, nearly 1,300 feet above the snow line.

Photo: PCSD
Photo: PCSD

After the initial call came in, Pierce County Sheriff's SWAT team leader Sgt. Mark Berry immediately sent the agency's Lenco Bearcat—with 40-inch tires—and a small contingent of tactical officers to begin the hour-plus trip from headquarters.

After the remainder of his team reached the park, Sgt. Berry set up an incident command post at Longmire, the furthest point cell phones can receive signal. He then set up a tactical command post with his Tahoe SUV further up, near the three vehicle crime scenes. An officer rescue team reached the vehicles to recover Ranger Anderson, who had succumbed to her wounds. The team disabled the three vehicles, secured the ranger's weapons, and seized the weaponry from Barnes' vehicle.

They heard gunfire in a canyon. Shortly after midnight, tactical officers began evacuating the park to search for Barnes. The 125 tourists at the Jackson Visitor Center near Paradise were screened and released. Next, authorities needed to reach hikers and campers inside the park who were potential targets for Barnes' fury.

By now, multiple agencies were involved, including tactical teams sent by the FBI's Seattle field office and the Tacoma Police Department. A Border Patrol helicopter arrived to assist the search. An Oregon law enforcement agency sent a fixed-wing plane with FLIR thermal technology. But perhaps the most valuable asset was Sgt. Ted Holden, a game warden with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sgt. Holden, an experienced tracker, helped tactical officers locate Barnes' tracks in the thick, wet snow.

Because Barnes didn't have snow shoes, his tracks were distinctive. He left leg and arm holes, indicating his attempts to push himself out of chest-high snow. As Barnes pressed onward with his rifle, the wet snow pressing against him was lowering his body temperature and increasing his risk of hypothermia.

To clear the park of hikers and campers, airborne officers dropped paper coffee cups with scrawled messages such as "A ranger has been shot, shooter at large." Another read, "Do not drive from Paradise without armed escort."

Photo: PCSD
Photo: PCSD

Tactical officers borrowed snow shoes from park service personnel and followed Barnes tracks through the snowy, rugged terrain. Tactical officers from each of the three teams began clearing specific areas and using hand-held thermal devices as the cloak of night fell on the park. By 2 a.m. on Monday, Sgt. Berry called off the search to rest his fatigued officers.

"It was dark, guys were cold," Sgt. Berry told POLICE Magazine. "They had been out on the mountain for 12 hours snowshoeing around. The chances of losing an operator were high, so we called the search until daylight."

Shortly before daybreak, SWAT officers put on their snow shoes and headed back into the search area. Using hand-held GPS devices, they returned to their positions to track Barnes. Eventually Pierce County Sheriff's deputies found Barnes face down in a river. The hunt was over.

Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

gp cobb @ 1/5/2012 8:45 PM

One could be curious if Barnes had a bullet hole in him?

Jeremy @ 1/5/2012 9:46 PM

Dear Paul Clinton (author) Please don't "Sexify" the killer by calling him the "ranger killer". The title should be more respectful to Ranger Anderson and her widow. I find this a bit classless for Police Online.

Ric Walters @ 1/6/2012 5:12 AM

No gp cobb - there's been no indication that Barnes had a bullet hole in him. Your question could easily be read two ways - did anyone shoot back (no), or did someone shoot him while he was running (no). Of course, the implication that could be drawn from someone having shot him while he was running would be that he was shot in the back.

He died from hypothermia and maybe drowning. He was face down in a river when located. Barnes was not equipped to survive in sub-freezing temps and chest-high snow. Whatever his mental state was, it played a part in his well-deserved death. He probably just drifted off to sleep and died, never having to face the family and friends of a law enforcement officer, nor a judge and jury.

Don't imply - intentionally or unintentionally - that a fellow law enforcement officer may have shot him in the back.

Editor @ 1/6/2012 8:47 AM

Jeremy: We have to use a kind of shorthand sometimes in headlines to make them fit and make them read quickly. It was not our intent to sexify or in anyway glorify the "ranger killer" anymore than that's our intent when we use the term "cop killer." "Ranger Killer" tells the audience what incident we are referencing vs. some other manhunt.

really? @ 1/6/2012 11:38 AM

Is the author of this article a journalist or novelist? Opinion's about the suspect have no place here. Grandiose details about the park ecosystem? Really? This was a tragic incident and the details of the article should include the facts and the time line of events. This is the first time I have heard that the suspect fired on pursuing park rangers prior to the confrontation that took Ranger Anderson's life. If that is the case, why did the the pursuing park ranger have another park ranger place herself in the path of this person if she was not able to block the roadway and take an adequate cover position?

Rick @ 1/7/2012 7:32 AM

really?, I too was curious about Anderson's decision to block the road with her vehicle and stand there without protection. Initially, I thought that she was unarmed until I read the note that responding officers "...secured the ranger's weapons...". As she knew that Barnes was armed and had already fired on people, I wonder why she [apparently] put her life in jeopardy.

jp911k9 @ 1/7/2012 9:50 AM

Although I agree with Ric Walters' underlying concern if an officer shot sh!tbird Barnes, but maybe gp cobb was implying that Barnes self-inflicted. And two, its okay to shoot someone in the back. Physics allows it depending upon the circumstances of the rapidly unfolding event.

Second, this tragic story brings to light some monumental flaws with NPS and the way it handles its law enforcement. There are two kinds of rangers - interpretation, the ones that do campfires, walks, etc. and then law enforcement - the "cops in the woods", as it were. The problem is they look exactly alike except for the badge on their uniform. There is no other distinction and the public, media, and fellow law enforcement, easliy get confused. NPS park rangers are armed, sometimes heavily depending upon the circumstances, location, and assignment. So, the "pursuing park rangers" may or may not have been armed. I don't know unless someone intimate with the incident says so. But using the term park ranger is too ambiguous. Having lived in the mountains of So Cal where snow tire checkpoints were the norm, I can tell you that they were conducted by CalTrans workers and sometimes a CHP officer.

Finally, on Rick's comment about Anderson knowing that Barnes fired upon other people...who is to say? I didn't read anything about Barnes firing upon anyone on that day before encountering Anderson. The night before, yes. But he ran the checkpoint from what I understand, he did not shoot his way through it. And how many times have we been involved on a call where even the most critical and obvious of information is not relayed or inaccurate. We'll never know what she knew, but we can agree that she made a tactical error and someone will hopefully learn from it.

The public is not aware as to the extent of crime and violence within our national parks, etc. Its there. Maybe not LAPD-style, but it is present and park officers put their lives on the line ever

John E @ 1/19/2012 5:59 PM

Under my dept guidelines and the law it would be perfectly within guidelines to shoot this miscreant in the back. Even if he was just fleeing. The danger presented by him escaping far outweighs the danger of shooting him in the back. I hope he died slowly and realized every second of it.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.
Police Magazine