For A Fallen Sister


In Mourning

Park Ranger Margaret Anderson's funeral was held Tuesday at Tacoma, Washington, near Mount Rainier National Park, where she worked. More than 3,000 mourners attended; among them were officers from about 250 agencies. At the head of their ranks were Margaret's fellow National Park Service rangers. Her father, Pastor Paul Kritsch, officiated, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivered a eulogy.

That Margaret Anderson was the first National Park Service law enforcement woman killed in the line of duty surely means little to her family right now; the words “mom” and “wife” certainly mean most to them. Besides, the ranger corps has included women for a long time. I doubt that Margaret's husband, Ranger Eric Anderson, has even seen National Geographic's 1966 America's Wonderlands, with words that both inspired and intimidated me:

"A ranger is a man's man. He likes animals and flowers, lakes and mountains. He can spend all day on a horse and half the night on a square dance floor. (He) talks facts and listens well. Don't try to bluff a ranger."

It may comfort Margaret Anderson's three-year-old and her one-year-old to learn some day that their mother died stopping a killer from reaching a play area filled with children. The first news reports described him merely as "an Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress." That description insults the men and women of our armed forces who served honorably, then came home and made their best efforts to deal with the horrors encountered in a misbegotten war. When this "troubled vet" began his drive to the Paradise Snow Play Area-- that's its name-- he put on body armor, then armed himself with an assault rifle and plenty of extra ammo. The combat scene that cost Ranger Anderson her life heard more than 120 shots fired.

Margaret's husband will never wonder, as some might, why it was NPS rangers and not officers from some other agency who deployed to protect Mount Rainier's visitors. He might think some times of last year's mass killing at an island camp in Norway, where eighty-five teenagers died as police searched frantically for a boat. United States National Park Service rangers were on the scene and ready this New Year's Day.

Civilian memories are short, though, and some day a visitor may ask Eric why he carries a gun. As a ranger, he will "talk facts." His answer might or might not quote a legendary Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, who informed job applicants in 1926 that, "the ranger is primarily a policeman, therefore he should be big in frame, tall, and of average weight for his age and height."

I'm sure Horace Albright would change some of his words today, but not his philosophy. The man who became the agency's best-loved Director would know, as Secretary Salazar told the mourners on Tuesday, that, "for nearly a century, the rangers of the National Park Service and especially those who train and serve in law enforcement, have risked their lives to protect the last of the bison at Yellowstone, to keep the people's lands free of smugglers and thieves, and (to) defend the icons of our history from those who wish to inflict terror on those icons."

The Secretary's words give a ranger pride, but I have no doubt that Margaret's family-- her husband, children, mother, father, brothers and sisters civilian or otherwise-- will take their greatest comfort in knowing that she gave her life carrying out the mission set forth in the 1916 Act of Congress that established the National Park Service:

"...the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Thank you, Ranger Margaret Anderson. Your brothers and sisters will carry on.


This essay is dedicated to the National Park Service rangers shot and killed in the line of duty:

  • Margaret Anderson, Mount Rainier National Park, 2012

  • Kris Eggle, Organ Pipe National Monument, 2002

  • Steve Makuakane-Jarrell, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, 1999

  • Joe Kolodski, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1998

  • Robert L. McGhee Jr., Gulf Islands National Seashore, 1990

  • Ken Patrick, Point Reyes National Seashore, 1977

  • Karl Jacobson, Acadia National Park, 1938

  • James Cary, Hot Springs National Park, 1927



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