Never did I think it would come this quickly.
When writing the last column of 2011, wherein I juxtaposed the nationwide decline in crime versus the sharp increase in violent cop-killing, I never would have imagined that one of the first headlines of the new year would read: “Mount Rainier ranger slain; killer escapes into woods”.
National Park Service Ranger Margaret Anderson, a federal law enforcement officer working at Mount Rainier National Park, was gunned down New Year’s Day by a subject already sought in an earlier shooting that left four people hospitalized in South King County. That information was unknown to Anderson who came into the killer’s gunsights while conducting a traffic stop. In an ironic twist, her enforcement was based on the duty to protect her killer from the danger that the snow and ice-covered road near Paradise presented to a vehicle without the required tire chains.
Much will be said in the coming days about this tragedy. There will be second-guessing of the communication network that perhaps could have warned Anderson and her colleagues about the potential threat from this vehicle. There will be discussions about the tactics used during this fatal traffic stop. There will be station house whispers of the bad omen suggested by the homicide of a law enforcement officer on the first day of the new year.
That can wait. First, there is the duty to public safety: the extremely dangerous job of catching a killer wandering the icy reaches of the Cascades with an arsenal of weapons, a suicidal rage and no chance of escape. Second, there is the duty to the fallen: to honor Ranger Anderson and provide comfort to her grieving family.
Only when these duties are complete should we begin to wonder how it could be that, on the first day of 2012, the first law enforcement officer killed in 2012 called Pierce County her home.