Wednesday, January 4, 2012

RIP Margaret Anderson

As all of you will understand, the past week has been insanely hectic.

I fell behind on this blog during the month of December, working hard to meet deadlines for writing grant proposals that were due mid-month. After that, I took a wonderful two weeks off with my family.

On the morning of New Year's Day, one of our law enforcement rangers, Margaret Anderson, someone many of our volunteers know well as a colleague, was murdered during a traffic stop near Paradise. Other rangers were shot at and narrowly escaped injury and death. The gunman fled, armed, on foot through the snow. The Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise was locked down, and 125 visitors plus more than a dozen NPS and Guest Services employees, including three volunteers, were essentially trapped for 15 hours until they were able to be evacuated under cover of darkness in the middle of the night. The park was closed to the public. A massive manhunt began, involving multiple agencies including the Pierce County Sheriff's department, FBI, Washington State Patrol, US Forest Service, and several others--more than 200 people all told. About 24 hours after the shooting, the body of the shooter was discovered facedown in the Paradise River above Narada Falls.

As of this writing, the park is still closed, and will not reopen until Saturday, January 7. Park staff are devastated by Margaret's death, and it will take time to rebuild enough law enforcement, visitor center, general maintenance, and snow plow staff to reopen. Three national-level NPS teams are on hand to help out.

A memorial service will be held for Margaret on Tuesday the 10th at Pacific Lutheran University. A candlelight vigil is being organized by community members at the Eatonville Early Learning Center at 5:00pm on Sunday the 8th. Our public information teams are busy making sure that a significant amount of the media focus is on Margaret and her family, with tributes to her character and heroism, and her passions for service, the natural world, and Mount Rainier.

All of this is preamble to say that volunteers have played, and will continue to play, a vital role in this incident and its aftermath.

Volunteer Ed Hunds stands watch at the JVC.
On a typical weekend, volunteers are an important part of our team at Paradise. On New Year's Day, volunteer Ed Hunds was working at the Jackson Visitor Center, and Jim and Carol Miltimore were patroling trails. When the visitor center went into lockdown, Ed and Carol helped coral visitors and keep them occupied. They helped other staff members with Junior Ranger programs and kept people informed as best they could. Jim headed up the mountain to round up people who were out skiing and snowshoeing. They shared a traumatic experience with their NPS colleagues and with total strangers.

The manhunt and aftermath have not involved many volunteers per se, mostly because such an intense operation tends to rely primarily on those who are most deeply embedded in the agency and therefore already have the resources and connections necessary to act. The Incident Management Team is highly trained and, frankly, amazing in their ability to step in and work with a grieving family, arrange law enforcement honors for Margaret's body, arrange a memorial service for several thousand people, and other otherwise-impossible tasks.

Volunteer John McCarthy tells visitors at the Nisqually
Entrance that the park is closed.
This is not to say that volunteers have been forgotten -- far from it. Volunteers have been and continue to be welcome at the daily staff briefings at 9am at the Education Center. Resources for park staff are also available to volunteers to help deal with the trauma of this event. Volunteers are at the forefront of discussions about employees to include in the memorial service, and details about their role will be forthcoming on this blog site and by other methods. And volunteers will play a role in the park's reopening. Volunteers will help staff visitor centers and, as we get back up to speed, resume regular services like ski patrol.

This is a time when a member of our National Park Service family has been claimed by the most brutal and unfair violence. Our NPS family includes many, many volunteers, and I want to make sure all of you know that you're considered part of us. The best way to honor Margaret and her passion for Mount Rainier is to restore the Mountain to its proper role as a place of refuge and strength, both for the larger community and for us.

We will never be the same. Margaret will always be part of our history. But we can heal, with time, and our Mountain can help. Thank you all for your role.


Employee blog:
Officer Down Memorial Page:

An unofficial memorial page, not associated with NPS, has been set up on Facebook -- search for Margaret Anderson.

Donations (in lieu of flowers) can be made for the Anderson family, including her husband Eric and her two daughters, at any Key Bank. Checks may be mailed to P.O. Box 159, Eatonville, WA 98328.

Letters of condolence can be sent c/o Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave E, Ashford, WA 98304. E-mails can be sent to MountRainierInfo [at]

Adendum (January 6, 2012):

Since this entry was written, I've learned of several other volunteers who were in the park on New Year's day. These include Bill Marsh, who sprang into action rounding up spplies for law enforcement officers and served as a liason for emergency and law enforcement vehicles from other agencies arriving in the park. Carol Berry assisted visitors at Longmire who were turned around by the incident. And Evan Escamilla, whose name many of you will recognize as our 2010 summer Volunteer Coordinator, assisted at the Jackson Visitor Center after he and a friend had spent New Year's Eve at Camp Muir. Thank you to all who helped out.

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