MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. — 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 the cold.
A plane searching the remote wilderness for Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, on Monday discovered his body lying partially submerged in an icy, snowy mountain creek with snow banks standing several feet high on either side.
“He was wearing a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and one tennis shoe. That was it,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.
Barnes did not have any external wounds and appears to have died due to the elements, he said.
A medical examiner was at the scene to determine the cause of death. Troyer said two weapons were recovered, but he declined to say where they were located.
According to police and court documents, Barnes had a troubled transition to civilian life, with accusations in a child custody dispute that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following his Iraq deployments and was suicidal.
The mother of his toddler daughter sought a temporary restraining order against him, according to court documents.
She alleged that he got easily irritated, angry and depressed and kept numerous 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 guns.
The woman told authorities Barnes 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.”
In November 2011, a guardian ad litem recommended parenting and communication classes for both parents as well as a visitation schedule for Barnes until he completed evaluations for domestic violence and mental health and complied with treatment recommendations.
Maj. Chris Ophardt, an Army spokesman, told The News Tribune that Barnes had been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, and was released from the Army in November 2009 after two years and seven months on active duty after charges of driving under the influence and improperly transporting privately owned weapons.
Steven Dean, FBI special agent, said Barnes worked in communications.
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 then fatally shot ranger Margaret Anderson.
Immediately after the park shooting, police cleared out Mount Rainier of visitors and mounted a manhunt.
Fear that tourists could be caught in the crossfire in a shootout with Barnes prompted officials to hold more than a 100 people at the visitors’ center before evacuating them in the middle of the night.
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.
Barnes was connected to the shooting, said Sgt. Cindi West, King County sheriff’s spokeswoman.