Mt. Rainier scoured for gunman

Last Updated 12:18 p.m. ET


MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — The Iraq war veteran being sought in connection with the slaying of a Mount Rainier National park ranger may have headed to the remote wilderness area to "hide out" after an earlier shooting near Seattle.

Authorities say Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old believed to have survivalist skills, was a person of interest in the Sunday morning killing of Margaret Anderson.

Police have said he's also a suspect in a 3 a.m. shooting at a house party in Skyway, Wash., that left four people wounded.

Parks spokesman Kevin Bacher said the speculation is that Barnes came to the park to get away.

Bacher wouldn't guess whether Barnes survived the night in snowy, cold conditions as officers tried to track him down. He said with the proper gear and training, it was possible.

About 125 people have been evacuated from the visitors center at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington as tactical teams searched the park's snowy terrain for the gunman.

Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said the visitors were transferred from the park overnight in groups of vehicles over the span of a few hours.

About 150 officers converged on the mountain park after Anderson was shot to death Sunday morning, and searchers used an aircraft with heat-sensing capabilities to hunt from the skies.

Benjamin Colton Barnes, a person of interest in the Jan. 1, 2012, fatal shooting of a park ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, is shown in this undated photo provided by the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.
AP Photo/Pierce County Sheriff's Department

Troyer said Barnes is believed to be well-armed and have survivalist skills.

"We do have a very hot and dangerous situation," Troyer said.

Safety concerns prompted authorities to keep about 125 tourists quarantined at a visitors center as the manhunt unfolded.

But early Monday morning, officers began escorting them in their cars out of the park.

Crews had initially planned to keep everyone in a basement with guards. But Troyer said it was determined to be "better to do it (evacuate) under the cover of darkness than daylight."

Evacuee Dinh Jackson, a mother from Olympia, Wash., who came to the mountain to sled with family and friends, told The Associated Press that officials ordered people to hurry into the lodge after the shooting.

Jackson said officials had everyone get on their knees and place hands behind their heads as they went through the building, looking at faces to make sure the gunman was not among them.

"That was scary for the kids," she said.

An FBI SWAT team member wearing night-vision gear is seen at a command center at Mount Rainier National Park, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Washington state.
AP Photo/Pierce Co. Sheriff's Dept., Ed Troyer

Michael Wall, an elementary school teacher from Puyallup, Wash., spent the morning hiking with his son. They didn't find out about the violence until returning.

Wall said he was impressed by how staff members and visitors kept each other comfortable with food and conversation.

"It was calm, cool, easygoing," Wall said. "I didn't notice any tenseness or terseness."

A parks spokesman said Barnes was an Iraq war veteran, and the mother of his child had alleged he suffered from post-traumatic stress following his deployments.

Barnes was involved in a custody dispute in Tacoma in July 2011, during which the toddler's mother sought a temporary restraining order against him, according to court documents. In an affidavit, the woman wrote that Barnes was suicidal and possibly suffered from PTSD after deploying to Iraq in 2007-2008. She said he gets easily irritated, angry and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home.

Barnes was also a suspect in the early Sunday morning shooting of four people at a house party south of Seattle, police said.

Sgt. Cindi West, King County Sheriff's spokesperson, said late Sunday that Barnes was connected to an early-morning shooting at a New Year's house party in Skyway, Wash., south of Seattle that left four people injured, two critically. That incident happened about 3 a.m., and stemmed from an argument over a gun.

West said three people fled the scene. Two were located, and West said authorities were trying to find Barnes and had been in contact with his family, trying to have them convince him to "come to the police and tell his side of the story" in the Skyway shooting.

Police examine a car at Mount Rainier National Park
In this pool photo provided by the Pierce Co. Sheriff's Dept., a police officer examines a car on a road at Mount Rainier National Park, Jan. 1, 2012, in Washington state. The car is believed to have been driven by Benjamin Colton Barnes.
AP

At Mount Rainier around 10:20 a.m. Sunday, Bacher said the gunman had sped past a checkpoint to make sure vehicles have tire chains, which are sometimes necessary in snowy conditions. One ranger began following him while Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two young children who was married to another Mount Rainier park ranger, eventually blocked the road to stop the driver.

Before fleeing, the gunman fired shots at both Anderson and the ranger that trailed him, but only Anderson was hit, Bacher said. Anderson would've been armed, as she was one of the rangers tasked with law enforcement, Bacher said. Troyer said she was shot before she had even exited the vehicle.