Killer's icy grave: Iraq war vet who gunned down park ranger is found dead after freezing to death in snow

  • Body of Benjamin Colton Barnes spotted by helicopter face down in snow in remote area

  • Barnes, 24, was tracked in Mount Rainier Park

  • Also wanted for shooting of four people at New Year's Eve Party in Seattle

An armed Iraq War veteran suspected of killing a Mount Rainier National Park ranger managed to evade snowshoe-wearing SWAT teams and dogs on his trail for nearly a day. He couldn't, however, escape chest-deep snow.

A plane searching the remote wilderness for Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, on Monday discovered his body lying face down on the mountain hours from where authorities could get to him.

Barnes is believed to have fled to the remote park on Sunday to hide after an earlier shooting at a New Year's house party near Seattle that wounded four, two critically. Authorities suspect he shot ranger Margaret Anderson later on Sunday.

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Victim: Benjamin Colton Barnes (R) was said to have shot dead Margaret Anderson, a mother of two young daughters, at the national park near Seattle

SWAT teams more used to urban standoffs trekked deep into the backcountry, unfamiliar territory for them.

'We have SWAT team members with snowshoes on the side of a mountain,' Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said. 'This has never happened before.'

Immediately after Sunday's shooting, police cleared out the park of visitors and mounted a manhunt.

Fear that tourists could be caught in the crossfire in a shootout with Barnes, who had survivalist training, prompted officials to hold more than a 100 people at the visitors' centre before evacuating them in the middle of the night.

'Strong person of interest': Benjamin Colton Barnes, who cops say has a military background and strong wilderness survival skills, is also a suspect in an earlier shooting incident at a New Year's Eve party

Tragedy in the woods: The flag flew at half-staff at the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington after Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot dead

Barnes, who was believed to be carrying a cache of weapons, has had a troubled transition to civilian life, with accusations he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is suicidal.

He was involved in a custody dispute in Tacoma July, during which his toddler daughter's mother sought a temporary restraining order against him, according to court documents.

Mark of respect: Park rangers at Mount Rainier National Park covered their badges to mourn colleague Margaret Anderson

The woman told authorities he was suicidal and possibly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after deploying to Iraq in 2007-2008, and had once sent her a text message saying 'I want to die.'

She alleged that he gets easily irritated, angry and depressed and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home. She wrote that she feared for the child's safety. Undated photos provided by police showed a shirtless, tattooed Barnes brandishing two large weapons.

In November 2011, a guardian ad litem recommended parenting and communication classes for both parents and recommending Barnes be allowed to continue supervised visits with the child, two days a week.

That visitation schedule was to continue until he completed a domestic violence evaluation and mental health evaluation and complied with all treatment recommendations.

Late Sunday police said Barnes was a suspect in another shooting incident.

On New Year's, there was an argument at a house party in Skyway, south of Seattle, and gunfire erupted, police said. Four people in their 20s were reported injured, two critically. Barnes was connected to the shooting, said Sgt Cindi West, King County Sheriff's spokeswoman.

It is believed that the man had been asked to leave after an argument over a gun. The man came back with a weapon and opened fire on the crowd, according to police.

Wanted: Benjamin Colton Barnes is believed to have gunned down a U.S. Forest Service ranger after shooting four people at a New Year's Eve house party

Manhunt: Police released this picture of Iraq War veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes

Police believe Barnes headed to the remote park wilderness to 'hide out' following the Skyway shooting. There were children present in the home at the time of the shooting.

'The speculation is that he may have come up here, specifically for that reason, to get away,' parks spokesman Kevin Bacher told reporters early Monday. 'The speculation is he threw some stuff in the car and headed up here to hide out.'

Mrs Anderson had set up a roadblock on Sunday morning to stop a man who had blown through a checkpoint rangers use to check if vehicles have tire chains for winter conditions. A gunman opened fire on her before she was able to exit her vehicle, authorities say.

Before fleeing, the gunman fired shots at both Anderson and the ranger that trailed him, but only Anderson was hit.

Mrs Anderson would have been armed, as she was one of the rangers tasked with law enforcement, parks spokesman Kevin Bacher said. Troyer said she was shot before she had even got out of the vehicle.

Loss: Park Ranger Ralph Davis reading a copy of the Tacoma News Tribune after his colleague Margaret Anderson was shot dead

On patrol: A park ranger on the lookout at Mount Rainier National Park where a body of Barnes was found face down in the snow

Scene of the crime: A police officer examines the car that the shooting suspect was driving at Mount Rainier National when he was stopped by Park Ranger Margaret Anderson

Park superintendent Randy King said Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two young girls who was married to another Rainier ranger, had served as a park ranger for about four years.

King said Anderson's husband also was working as a ranger elsewhere in the park at the time of the shooting.

Mapped out: A board showing Pierce County Sheriff's search for Benjamin Colton Barnes

Mrs Anderson graduated from Westfield High School, New Jersey in 1995 and fulfilled her dream of becoming a park ranger, according to local newspaper the Westfield Patch.

She met her husband through work and they married in 2005. The couple had two daughters, Anna, three, and one-year-old Katie.

Adam Norton, a neighbour of Anderson's in the small town of Eatonville, Washington, said the ranger's family moved in about a year ago.

He said they were not around much, but when they were Norton would see Anderson outside with her girls. 'They just seemed like the perfect family,' he said.

The town of about 3,000 residents, which is a logging community overlooking Mount Rainier, is very close knit, he said.

'It's really sad right now,' Norton said. 'We take care of each other.'

Police have been in contact with Barnes' family, trying to have them coax him to 'come to the police and tell his side of the story'.

The shooting has meanwhile renewed debate about a federal law that made it legal for people to take loaded weapons into national parks. The 2010 law made possession of firearms subject to state gun laws.

Bill Wade, the outgoing chair of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said Congress should be regretting its decision.

'The many congressmen and senators that voted for the legislation that allowed loaded weapons to be brought into the parks ought to be feeling pretty bad right now,' said Wade.

Remote: Mount Rainier National Park in Washington covers a vast area

Wade called Sunday's fatal shooting a tragedy that could have been prevented. He hopes Congress will reconsider the law that took effect in early 2010, but doubts that will happen in today's political climate.

Calls and emails to the National Rifle Association requesting comment were not immediately returned on Monday.

The NRA said media fears of gun violence in parks were unlikely to be realised, the NRA wrote in a statement about the law after it went into effect. 'The new law affects firearms possession, not use,' it said.

The group pushed for the law saying people have a right to defend themselves against park animals and other people.

Bacher, the parks spokesman, said surviving overnight in the open on Rainier is difficult, but not impossible for a person with gear and skills. He added that authorities wouldn't shed tears if Colton didn't survive.

'I don't think any of us would be sorry if he was not in a condition to fire on our searchers this morning,' Bacher said.

Investigation: A Pierce County Sheriff's deputy examines the SUV driven by Park Ranger Margaret Anderson when she was fatally shot at Mount Rainier National Park

Desperate situation: Emergency vehicles speed to the scene of a shooting at Mount Rainier National Park

High tech search: An FBI Swat team member shows his night-vision gear in the search for a gunman on the loose in Mount Rainier National Park

Hours: The shooting occurred near the park's Longmire Ranger Station but took responders several hours to reach Margaret Anderson because of shots continually fired by the gunman

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