Benjamin Colton Barnes, Veteran Suspected of Killing Ranger, Had Threatened to Splatter His Own Brains

Benjamin Barnes.jpg
Pierce County Sherriff's Department
"If you come home, don't be surprised to find my brains splattered all over the walls." That was the message veteran Benjamin Colton Barnes texted to the mother of his child last January after she tried to leave him, according to her. But Barnes apparently decided to direct his violent urges outward.

Barnes, now dead, is suspected of killing Ranger Margaret Anderson at Mount. Rainier National Park on Sunday as he attempted to pass a roadblock she had set up. A car registered to the 24-year-old, stocked with weapons and survivalist gear, was found at the scene.

Law enforcement authorities have also linked Barnes to a shooting spree at a New Year's party in Skyway.

Anderson's killing caused havoc at the national park over the holiday weekend, trapping more than 100 people overnight at the Jackson Visitor Center and leading to a manhunt complete with a body-heat-sensing plane. On Monday, law enforcement authorities said they found Barnes' dead body, lying in a creek not far from the shooting. He apparently died of exposure to the freezing cold.

Over the past year, Barnes had been going through a custody battle with 23-year-old Nicole Santos; they have a girl who is now 1-year-old. In court documents, Santos painted an alarming picture of Barnes.

Possibly suffering from PTSD after his deployment to Iraq from 2007 to 2008, Barnes "gets easily irritated, angry, depressed and frustrated," Santos wrote in a declaration filed in July. His threat of splattering his own brains, coinciding with a stay at Valley Medical Center in Renton, was not his only suicide threat. In July, he texted her this: "I want to die."

Barnes refused to tell Santos where he was living, she wrote the court. But she said she knew that he kept a cache of guns and knives there.

In an earlier declaration to the court, filed in May, she called Barnes a "very violent person" and recounted an episode that spring during what was to be a family outing to a park near Snoqualmie Pass. She said she was doing the driving because he was prohibited from doing so due to a DUI offense. At his direction, she veered off the highway in order to get cheap cigarettes at an Indian reservation. (She doesn't specify but is perhaps alluding to the Snoqualmie Tribe's casino.)

But as they wandered around looking for cigarettes, he changed his mind and called her a "stupid bitch," according to Santos' account. They ended up heading back to Seattle, where they were living at the time, but Barnes, she wrote, "started to stomp his feet on the floor, crying and telling me to stop the car."

When she didn't, he pulled a knife and tried to grab the steering wheel, even though their daughter was in the back seat, according to the document.

There's surely more to come out about Barnes' life in the days to come, but his story so far sounds all-too-familiar. A young vet coming home disturbed, with a family breaking up and a cache of weapons with which to express his anger.

Just a couple of days ago, we got official confirmation that Joint Base Lewis-McChord saw a record number of suicides in 2011, something anti-war activists had already suspected. (For an in-depth look at one such suicide, see our cover story on Ranger Jared Hagemann.) Barnes' suspected shooting is a different kind of statistic, but one that does not bode well for 2012, a year in which more troops than ever will be newly returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, attempting to fit back into civil society.

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