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Thousands honor slain Mt Rainier park ranger

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Thousands gathered in Washington state on Tuesday to honor a park ranger killed in Mt. Rainier National Park on New Year's Day by an Iraq war veteran.

Margaret Anderson, a 34-year-old mother of two, became the first Mt. Rainier park ranger slain in the line of duty when she was shot by former Army private Benjamin Colton Barnes on January 1.

Anderson had set up a roadblock to stop Barnes, 24, who had sped past a mandatory chain-up park site just hours after opening fire on a group of revelers at a New Year's Eve party in Renton, Washington.

The body of Barnes was found drowned and partially submerged in the park's Paradise Creek the next day following a manhunt by 200 federal, state and local law enforcement agents.

During the public memorial at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma, park service officials, attired in dress forest-green uniforms and broad-brimmed beige hats, honored Anderson and surrounded her flag-draped coffin.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told more than 3,000 people attending the 90-minute memorial service that Anderson was "a ranger who followed her heart."

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis hailed Anderson as a hero, saying she had kept visitors safe on January 1.

That long holiday weekend had attracted more than 100 visitors, lured by mild sunny weather, to the 368-square-mile park's scenic and remote Paradise region.

Anderson is the 7th ranger slain in the line of duty since the U.S. National Park Service opened in 1916, spokesman Jeffrey Olson said.

Olson told Reuters he "could not say" whether law enforcement policies within national parks would be changed as a result of Anderson's death.

"There will be a thorough review of this incident," Olson said.

About 1.7 million visitors traveled in 2010 to the famed Mount Rainier National Park. The picturesque snow- and ice-covered Mount Rainier rises 14,410 feet above sea level.

Barnes, who apparently suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, was discharged from the Army for misconduct in November 2009 after being charged by civilian authorities with driving under the influence and improperly transporting a privately owned weapon.

He served one tour of duty in Iraq.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan)

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