Everyone experiences the occasional bad day at the office, and having an alternative career to fantasize about is a reliable coping strategy. Marine biologist. Fly-fishing guide. Ski patroller. A good friend and writer I've worked with on many stories over the years used to suffer from chronic bouts of writer's block in the middle of major assignments. When I'd call to inquire about her progress, she'd often sigh and respond, "Is it too late for me to become a park ranger?" One time we spent a few minutes debating which park would be the best place to be stationed. "Rainier," I remember saying, before drifting off into my fantasy of being a climbing ranger.
Given the time spent outside in some of the world's most beautiful places, it's understandable that park ranger is a popular dream job, but the events of January 1, 2012, will put an end to the notion that it's a career filled only with bliss. That morning a former Army specialist from Seattle drove to Mount Rainier National Park with a car full of weapons, including an assault rifle. When he evaded one ranger's attempt to pull him over, another ranger, Margaret Anderson, set up a roadblock a few miles from the iconic Paradise Inn and the Jackson Visitor Center, where more than a hundred parkgoers were celebrating the first day of the new year. He shot her and fled into the woods.
Contributing editor Bruce Barcott spent several months reporting and researching the events of that day, and his story "The Devil on Paradise Road" is a chilling, exhaustively detailed account of the shooting and the tense 24-hour manhunt that followed. Like me, you probably remember the Rainier incident occurring but had forgotten the details. Barcott's story is a reminder of the thin line between tragedies that merit only a blip in the news cycle and ones that become ingrained in our national consciousness. We still don't know what Barnes' motives were on that fateful day, but some have speculated that he was capable of a mass shooting on the horrific scale of Columbine or Norway's Utoyah Island and that Anderson's intervention was the only thing that prevented him from seeing it through. In that sense, we should add another job skill to the seemingly dreamy profession she chose for herself: hero.