One of the scariest stories over the holiday weekend has ended with another fatality.
A gun-crazed, suicidal Iraq-war veteran — suspected of shooting up a New Year’s party and killing a female park ranger — apparently froze to death while fleeing on foot into Washington state’s vast Mount Rainier National Park.
A body believed to be Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was found in chest-deep snow yesterday after a 200-man search led by helicopter, SWAT teams and police dogs.
Barnes fled into the 368-square-mile park after allegedly killing Margaret Anderson, a New Jersey-raised ranger, with a high-powered assault rifle when she tried to stop him at a roadblock.
Barnes had been on a downward spiral since being deployed to Iraq in 2007 and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Nicole Santos, the mother of his 1-year-old child.
Santos had obtained two restraining orders against Barnes, noting he had “a lot of weapons in his home,” was often angry and had made repeated threats of suicide.
Investigators said Barnes apparently snapped at a party at about 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day in the Seattle suburb of Skyway.
Witnesses said several people at the party came armed and a “show-and-tell” about their guns had led to an argument, then a shootout.
Barnes fled, leaving three men and a woman wounded, two critically, authorities said. .
Barnes, who had survival training, packed his car with weapons, ammunition, body armor and all-weather gear and headed for the park.
“He came up here fully armed with equipment to hide out,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters.
Authorities said Barnes roared past a park roadblock.
Anderson, 34-year-old former Westfield, NJ, resident, responded to a radio call for aid by setting up another roadblock in the park at about 10:30 a.m.
When Barnes arrived, he swung a U-turn, jumped out and shot Anderson in her car, police said.
He fled deeper into the park on foot after firing for 90 minutes at deputies who came to rescue her.
Anderson — wife of a fellow ranger and mother of two girls, 3 and 1 — died in the hands of medics.
“The little girls will have very few memories of their mom anymore,” said Anderson’s father, the Rev. Paul Kritsch, of Scotch Plains, NJ.
An intensive search involving deputies, rangers and FBI officers was launched while the park was evacuated of campers and tourists.
Investigators said Barnes had a big head start, but he had no snow shoes and left tracks that they followed.
A body, spotted by aircraft and registering “no heat signature,” was located several miles inside the park by midday yesterday, and authorities were awaiting confirmation that it was Barnes.
SMH. This is terrible. Our prayers go out to that poor woman’s family.
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