U.S. News

Mount Rainier gunman died of drowning, hypothermia: officials

SEATTLE (Reuters) - An Iraq war veteran who was found dead at Mount Rainier National Park a day after he killed a park ranger drowned in a creek after suffering from hypothermia, a medical examiner’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

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The body of Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was found partially submerged in the park’s frigid Paradise Creek on Monday in a snowy, rugged area, dressed only in jeans, a T-shirt and one tennis shoe, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.

An autopsy on Barnes’ body attributed the immediate cause of death to drowning with hypothermia contributing, the county medical examiner’s spokeswoman said, reading from the report.

The heavily armed suspect had initially eluded about 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officials in the 368-square-mile park after authorities said he shot and killed park ranger Margaret Anderson at a roadblock.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s autopsy report indicated that Anderson, who was married to another ranger who was on duty at the time, died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Troyer said the agency’s swift-water rescue team, dressed in wet suits, found Barnes “face down, totally in the water” after a widespread overnight search that trapped about 150 tourists until they were escorted out at midnight by police.

Barnes had a handgun and weapon magazines in his pocket and officers recovered a rifle about 100 yards upstream, Troyer said.

Earlier on Sunday, Barnes had been one of two people who fired shots at a New Year’s party in the Skyway neighborhood near Renton, Washington, south of Seattle, the King County Sheriff’s Department said. Four people were injured in that incident, two of them critically.

Barnes was discharged for misconduct in November 2009 after being charged by civilian authorities with driving under the influence and improperly transporting a privately owned weapon, Army officials have said.

He served one tour of duty in Iraq, according to the Army.

A National Park Service team flew to Rainier to counsel traumatized rangers and grieving park staff on Tuesday, as the famed park remained closed for a third day.

About 1.7 million visitors traveled in 2010 to Mount Rainier National Park. More than 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow cover Mount Rainier, 14,410 feet above sea level.

Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston