A blue Impala. Camiccia discussed the blow-by with Snure. Foreigners visited the park every day. The driver might have been confused. Was it worth going after the guy? Probably so, they decided. Better to stop him now than tow him out of the snow later. Camiccia jumped into his NPS pickup. He called in the plate as he accelerated: Washington XZL. Dispatch called back. Owner: Barnes, Benjamin Colton. White male, five-nine, pounds, 24 years old.
The ranger caught up to the Impala about two minutes later. He rolled his lights. No response. He hit the siren. Camiccia let the Impala gap him on the hairpin. Then he gunned it and caught up, lights still flashing. But the Impala kept on. He called for backup as the two cars wound their way up the icy hill, locked in a low-speed switchback chase. She took a quick situational inventory. There were a few dozen cars in the parking lot. That meant upwards of a hundred visitors. Camiccia and the Impala would reach her in about 15 minutes. During summer the road continues into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
But in winter it dead-ends at Paradise, blocked by a wall of snow. Anderson wanted to stop the driver before he got that far. She was, in a way, the perfect ranger for the job. She could cool a hot situation with a few words and a disarming smile, but the use of handcuffs and force were not foreign to her experience.
Anderson jumped into her white Chevy Tahoe and roared down to Barn Flats, where the road unkinks into a yard straightaway. It took her a little over a minute to get there. Barnes embraced warrior culture. He kept his hair in a jarhead shave, inked his body with words that evoked the epic. A neck tattoo listed four of the seven deadly sins: Pride Envy Gluttony Lust.
Of course, none of this was known to Margaret Anderson. Barnes was just a suspect leading her colleague in a two-car parade. Behind him, a ranger on his tail. Beside him sat a loaded AR assault rifle, the civilian version of the M16 he carried in Iraq. Barnes braked, swung open his door, aimed, and fired at Anderson. The gun went off in bursts. Anderson slumped at the wheel. When Camiccia rounded the corner, Barnes wheeled on him and squeezed off four quick rounds.
One tore through his seat belt just above the shoulder. He jammed his truck into reverse and retreated. Anderson, bleeding badly, backed her Tahoe into the snowbank so hard the tailgate crumpled. Executing a two-point turn, she moved her vehicle about yards up-mountain—still in the Flats straightaway but blocking the downhill lane. Barnes had a semi-automatic assault rifle, battlefield firepower. Interpretive rangers carry no weapons.
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So the Paradise interps decided their best strategy was to turn the JVC into a fortress. Out in the parking lot, Lisa Hill, a year-old dental hygienist from nearby Graham, was eager to hit the trail and try out her new Jetboil stove. Then Hill heard a voice. Everybody into the building! Instinctively, she looked up-mountain. If an avalanche was coming, she wanted to know which way to run.
It was a. The guy was still on the loose.
And the staff at the visitor center were unarmed. The JVC rangers hatched a plan. Rebecca Roland, a year-old interpretive ranger, huddled with a few colleagues. They asked ranger Gavin Wilson to take charge. A handful of visitors were still out on the mountain, oblivious to the emergency. Longmire park volunteer Jim Miltimore—who, with his wife, Carol, has logged more than 12, hours of service at the park—strapped on his snowshoes and charged up the cross-country trail to warn any skiers.
When stragglers approached the visitor center, a ranger searched them for weapons. Paradise was a short minute hike from Barn Flats. Anybody could have been the shooter. Could he be in the JVC already?
Could this be some sort of holiday terrorist strike? The most maddening, hateful acts of our era are known by their geographic location. Virginia Tech.
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That Mount Rainier would be added to the list remained a frightening possibility. Mama will pick you up soon, he told them.
Anderson called the Rainier dispatcher to see what was going on. The dispatcher asked him to report directly to park headquarters at Tahoma Woods, 17 miles west of Longmire. Park superintendent Randy King arrived at headquarters a few minutes before Anderson. He knew the park and its people.
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He asked Anderson to sit tight. The next few minutes and hours: what they were for Anderson, only he knows. Her radio was silent, and the suspect—Barnes or whoever was driving his car—continued to fire on anyone approaching. From the Canadian border to northern Oregon, word flashed over law-enforcement wires: officer down, shooter loose. A ranger flagged down Deputy Frank Brown near Longmire, handed him a park radio, and pointed him up the road. A few minutes later, Brown raced past two empty Park Service vehicles and nearly reached the Flats when he heard the radio call him back.
Rangers Camiccia and Snure had briefly abandoned their trucks, but when they saw Brown drive by they scrambled back to stop him from stumbling into the shooting alley. Up at Paradise, a group of rangers and maintenance workers debated mounting a rescue effort. They had an ambulance and a sanding truck they thought they could use to reach Anderson.
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She was so close. One minute away.
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And yet the risks were enormous. The shooter was still squeezing off rounds.