Friends of park ranger murder suspect speak out


by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

Posted on January 4, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 4 at 6:39 PM

SEATTLE -- In a statement sent to KING 5 News, friends of the man suspected of killing a park ranger on New Years Day shed new light on the suspect, saying he no longer had an apartment, stayed with friends and was living out of his car.

"Benjamin Barnes did a horrible thing and, unfortunately, we will not know why and how he got to that point," said the friends, who were reached through Facebook and asked to remain anonymous.  "We knew Barnes for almost two years and not once [has] Barnes exhibited behavior similar to the one several days ago."

Authorities said Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, shot and killed park ranger Margaret Anderson at Mount Rainier National Park Sunday morning.  His body was found face down in a snowy creek Monday with a handgun and rifle nearby.  An autopsy performed Tuesday showed he had hypothermia and drowned.

Friends knew that Barnes received a misconduct discharge at Fort Lewis in 2009 after he was charged with driving under the influence and improper transport of a privately owned weapon.  In their statement, friends said Barnes stopped drinking after the DUI and spent most of his time in the gym.

They also said Barnes loved his one-year-old daughter "more than life," adding that he worked hard on his custody paperwork.

Court documents filed by Barnes' ex-girlfriend, the mother of his child, claimed that Barnes was angry, suicidal and possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  She claimed Barnes had a lot of weapons, including firearms and knives. 

"I am fearful of what Benjamin is capable of with the small arsenal he has in his home and recent threat of suicide," she said in court papers last year.

But Barnes' friends contend he was not angry and suicidal, saying that he would never harm his daughter. 

"He would give up his life at any instance to make sure [she] was safe and secure," the friends said in their statement.

They said Barnes was left with very little money after paying child support and could no longer afford rent at his apartment in Seattle's Eastlake neighborhood.

"He gave up his apartment and comfortable living and stayed with friends and kept most of his belongings in his vehicle, in order to ensure he had money to give to his daughter," friends said.  "That's why authorities found lots of gear and other stuff in the vehicle, because he had nowhere else to put it."

Hours before the park ranger murder, authorities believe Barnes was at a house party in Skyway that turned violent.  Four people were shot and sent to the hospital.  People attending the party told KING 5 that Barnes was one of the people who opened fire.

In their statement, friends said they do not defend Barnes' actions on Sunday.

"It's a horrible thing he has done," they said.  "Ben was not a monster, but he did make horrible choices, which he, unfortunately, paid for with his life for taking a life of an innocent person."