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Mt. Rainier to reopen Saturday; gunman’s motive still a mystery

January 4, 2012 |  2:22 pm

Margaret_Anderson_memorial_
Life is slowly, sadly returning to normal near Mt. Rainier National Park after the New Year's Day slaying of popular ranger Margaret Anderson.

The park, which has been closed since Anderson was gunned down during a traffic stop, will reopen to the public Saturday, and memorial plans are underway to honor the 34-year-old mother of two, who was married to a fellow park ranger, the Associated Press reported

Authorities, meanwhile, said the cause of the gunman's death has been determined. He fled into the park after shooting Anderson, and his body was found a day later. Autopsy reports announced Tuesday revealed that he died of drowning after suffering from hypothermia in the frigid wilderness.

But no one has been able to answer the most pressing question: Why did Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran, open fire on Anderson?

In one respect, Anderson died trying to protect Barnes. Barnes had driven through a traffic checkpoint aimed at making sure drivers have the proper protections, such as snow chains, before navigating the park's roadways during the winter weather. Anderson was setting up a traffic stop to corral Barnes when he leaped from his car and opened fire.

A multi-agency search involving local, state and federal authorities led to the discovery of Barnes' body, partially submerged in a park creek. His weapons were nearby. Although there was initial suspicion that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities later told the Associated Press that he drowned in a creek.

As investigators try to piece together a possible motive, they've discovered that Barnes may have been involved in an earlier shooting at a New Year's Eve party near Seattle.

Barnes' family released a statement to the Seattle Times expressing its condolences to Anderson's family, and expressing shock over Barnes' apparent actions:

"Please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and your families as well during this difficult time," the statement said. "We are as shocked as anyone concerning the events of the last few days and while we in no way condone or excuse Ben's behavior, he was a beloved member of our family and we are saddened by his loss."

The Associated Press also reported that plans are underway for a memorial service for Anderson, but details were not made available.

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: A message honoring Mt. Rainier National Park ranger Margaret Anderson is posted outside a motel serving park visitors. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

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