Police on Monday found the body of an Iraq War veteran suspected of killing a US national park ranger, saying it appeared he died of exposure after fleeing into the forest.
A manhunt had been underway for 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes following the New Year’s Day shooting in snow-covered Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.
His body was found in a river called Paradise Creek, wearing only a T-shirt, jeans and one shoe — and there appeared to be no external wounds, suggesting he likely died from exposure, police said.
“He appears to have not been the victim of any type of violence other than the weather,” said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.
The gunman allegedly killed 34-year-old ranger Margaret Anderson with a high-powered assault rifle after she set up a roadblock to corral the suspect, who had sped away from an earlier traffic stop.
The mother of two, whose husband is also a ranger, had no chance, the police spokesman said.
“If I was sitting in that car or any one of us here, we’d be dead. There was nothing she could have done. There’s no speculation on that,” he told reporters at the entrance to the park.
A manhunt was launched immediately after the shooting, but it was scaled back overnight as the dark and wintry conditions made it difficult to search the 953km2 national park in Washington state, south of Seattle.
About 200 police and officials had resumed their manhunt at first light on Monday, searching the park for the “armed and dangerous” suspect.
His body was eventually found above Narada Falls, a popular and scenic waterfall only about 1.5km to 2.4km from the site of the shooting “as the crow flies,” chief ranger Chuck Young said.
Despite his military training, Barnes appeared to have boxed himself in shortly after the shooting, leaving himself no route to escape before nightfall and sub-zero temperatures set in.
“He put himself into a position where he wasn’t going to get out of. They had containment on both ends of the valley. If he was still moving he wasn’t going to get out,” Troyer said.
All weapons have been recovered and no shots were fired by anyone other than the suspect, officials said.
Barnes suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Seattle Times, which linked him to another shooting earlier on Sunday in which four people were injured.
He was believed to have advanced survival and wilderness skills. A photograph released by police shows him with a tattooed bare torso brandishing two large guns. The Seattle Times said he tried to commit suicide in January last year.
A car with weapons, body armor and survivalist gear was discovered, and a park spokeswoman said before his body was found that Barnes appeared “to be somebody who has some good knowledge of surviving and the wilderness.”
According to local media outlet KOMO News, Barnes was also believed to be connected to a shooting earlier on Sunday that injured four in Skyway, a community approximately 16km southeast of Seattle.
The incident has eerie similarities to the 1982 movie Rambo: First Blood, in which Sylvester Stallone plays a troubled Vietnam Vet who evades capture outside the fictional town of Hope, Washington.