MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. - Rangers and volunteers somberly embraced as Mount Rainier National Park reopened to the public Saturday for the first time since an Iraq War veteran shot and killed a park ranger there on New Year's Day.
"We're here to take back the mountain today," park spokeswoman Lee Snook said.
Margaret Anderson, who had worked as a ranger with her husband at the park for three years, was shot dead by 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes after he busted through a snow tire checkpoint.
Authorities say Barnes, who showed signs of erratic behavior since returning from war, had fled to the mountain hours after a house party shooting in the Seattle suburb of Skyway that left four injured.
After killing Anderson and shooting at another ranger, Barnes fled for the woods, triggering a massive manhunt in the rugged terrain. He was found dead in a creek the following day. An autopsy showed he drowned.
On Saturday, small groups of visitors headed to the mountain's freshly powdered trails to snow shoe and cross-country ski. The flag at the ranger's kiosk remained at half-staff, and uniformed rangers wore black bands across their badges.
"This is a place to come to be happy," Allan Evans, a park volunteer from Graham, Wash., said after hugging a ranger who was on duty when Anderson was killed. "This is what this park is about. This is the first stop to trying to get everything as whole as can be."
"We need to celebrate Margaret, of course, but I'm pretty sure she wouldn't want everybody just sitting around mopey," Evans added.
A small memorial for Anderson, decorated with flowers and candles, has been placed next to the ranger kiosk.
Entry to the park was free Saturday. But the snow play area a section popular with families remained closed.
A candlelight vigil will be held Sunday in nearby Eatonville for Anderson, who left behind her husband and two children. A memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday in Tacoma.
The park, which offers miles of wooded trails and spectacular vistas from which to see 14,410-foot Mount Rainier, draws between 1.5 million and 2 million visitors each year.