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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Blog

January 2, 2012

Margaret

By now you’ve heard the news. The first female park ranger to be killed in the line of duty in our nation’s history was shot in cold blood. She was trying to stop a gunman in a speeding car from entering Mount Rainier National Park on the morning of January 1, 2012. 34-year-old Margaret Kritsch Anderson, was the wife of fellow park ranger, Eric Anderson and mother of 3-year-old Anna and 1-year-old Katie.

Photo courtesy of Jayne M. Thompson
Margaret Kritsch Anderson, right, a law enforcement ranger at Mount Rainier National Park.

As I write to you, it appears that the suspected shooter, 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes, who fled on foot into the deep, wintry forest, was found dead facedown in the snow. While many details about this tragedy will unfold over the next days, months and years, there are other things I’d like you to know.

Margaret was a friend of mine. She was one of my beloved former Lutheran Campus Ministry-Kansas State University students. She also studied Aikido, a Japanese martial art, with my husband Jack and I when we were instructors at K-State. Margaret, the daughter of Pastor Paul and Dorothy Kritsch, was one of our LCM peer ministers. She was kind, gentle, faithful, cheerful, and a wonderful friend to so many people.

I met Margaret when I was teaching a Sunday morning young adult class at First Lutheran Church, Manhattan, Kan. She was there with her best friend and fellow vet-med student, Amanda Mouradian. They were funny and so delightful. I invited them to come to Lutheran Campus Ministry worship on the K-State campus as well as to our weekly student supper. They obliged and brought Amanda’s then-boyfriend (now her husband), Dave Darby. They loved it, made forever friends and were joyous members of our LCM community.

Jack and I spent long hours in conversation with Margaret when she was deciding whether or not to apply to be a park ranger. She wanted to talk about the ethics of training to carry and use a firearm. She wanted to think it through in the context of her faith and Aikido training as well. In the end, she asked me to serve as a reference for her when the United States government officials called to do her background check. I happily told them that Margaret without a doubt had the character and the courage to serve her country in this way. 

Margaret also shared in our sorrow in 1998 when one of our LCM friends, Matthew Burenheide, spouse of then-seminarian Sheri Burenheide, died when he was electrocuted at work. (Read Sheri Burenheide's article, "Never say…" in the May 2000 issue of The Lutheran.) Matt and Margaret were good friends, shared a love of the outdoors, biology and interests in serving as park rangers. Now they are both gone.

I wanted to write and pay tribute not only to Margaret, but also to the Lutheran Campus Ministry community and the way it is so very close and deeply connected over distance and time. Into the late evening of January 1, my husband and I notified our three adult children who were good friends with Margaret, the beloved LCM-ers and Aikido students through Facebook and by telephone. I was hoping to let them know before they might turn on the Sunday evening news and see a photograph of their dear slain friend.

Photo courtesy of Jayne M. Thompson
Margaret Kritsch Anderson, back left in ivory shirt, enjoys a birthday celebration at a Lutheran Campus Ministry student supper in Manhattan, Kan.

Within minutes I started to receive Facebook messages from dear young adults: Amanda and Dave in Texas, Nicole and Kevin in Washington state, Joel in Georgia, Troy in Nebraska and Sheri, Lisa, Jennifer and others in Kansas. They were consoling each other, offering prayers and love just as they had done when they were together at K-State.  This warmed my heart in the midst of my sorrow. I was also buoyed by the kind thoughts and condolences by others throughout the Facebook community. Many had heard about the horrendous events of the morning, but had no idea that she was connected to us in the Lutheran community.

[1-7-11: author's update: Julie Sevig posted a breaking news update about Margaret's memorial service. Please read, Ranger's memorial service announced. I will be traveling to Margaret's memorial service to share with her beloved ones in their sorrow, in their remembrances of her remarkable life and as we honor her service.]

Now her parents are making their way to grieve with Eric and his daughters. The worry, questions and incredulous soul-searching will swirl, like the dry snows of Mount Rainier, around them and all who loved Margaret. The national debate about gun control and how we treat our war veterans will rage for a while, and then it will fade from our public discourse once again. That is until a senseless tragedy rips into our lives again.

I guess you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about Benjamin. I’m troubled about many things in his life that have been reported. I have no way of verifying facts and reports. But I do know that I feel for Benjamin because, even in the midst of my anger, I see a very disturbed, broken and troubled young man. I’m sure there must be other photographs of him without his tattoos and assault weapons. The shirtless, grim-faced man who looks back at us seems to lead us to believe that Benjamin was not one of us, that he was a crazed lunatic. Maybe he was, but maybe not.

Ben served our country in the Iraq war from 2007-08. Upon return, apparently he couldn’t cope. He was agitated and suicidal. Hoarded a cache of attack weapons that would be completely unnecessary for one to own in a civilian society. The mother of his small daughter took out restraining orders and he was court-ordered to have supervised visitation of his daughter. Folks thought he was suicidal and depressed. Medical folks suggested that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He was supposed to be getting help – court-ordered to complete a domestic violence evaluation and mental health evaluation and to comply with all treatment recommendations so he could continue to see his daughter.

I wonder how it is that someone with obvious mental health and domestic violence issues is able to keep such weaponry? How is it that, after Ben shot folks at 3 am New Year’s Eve, that all law enforcement units weren’t notified in the Seattle area? Mount Rainier is due south within easy driving distance from Skyway, Wash.

My sinking, sick feeling is that we, all of us — as a country — failed Ben and Margaret. Both young people were serving their country. Somehow, we have failed them both. Oh, to be sure — others will argue with this suggestion. I know, the refrains of individual responsibility will be chanted. Margaret chose a dangerous job. Ben could have gotten help. Not all soldiers are violent, suicidal and go on shooting sprees. I know all that. But I fear that we will again, strain to make sense of the senseless act by focusing on the desperate, despicable act of a soldier gone bad. I don’t think it’s that simple. I don’t think Margaret, who was thoughtful as the day is long, would dismiss him so lightly. I know Margaret. I think she would ask deeper questions about Ben. She would wonder about his family and if any one was caring for and praying for him. Margaret would want to talk this through with others. 

We, O Church, owe it to Margaret and yes, to Ben, to ponder this more deeply. To dig down and do some New Year’s soul-searching as a nation about our addiction to violence, our support of its use under the state’s authorization in war, but our mass-projection and baffling monster-creation when one of our own turns on others out of pain, rage, despair and isolation. I didn’t know Ben, but I pray for his family and all who knew him, worried about him, loved him and mourn his violent actions and his cold, frozen death.

I did know Margaret Kritsch Anderson and I hope you know a little bit more about her, too. Pray for Paul and Dorothy and her siblings, Sarah and Peter. Pray for Eric in his grave sorrow and above all, pray for Anna and Katie — wee little ones who will not remember their mom. Margaret’s heart was full of a passion for justice but equally full of forgiveness and compassion lived in Jesus’ name. We can all honor her memory by courageously speaking out against violence, by advocating for reasonable and just gun laws, by calling for full medical care for all our veterans and working for ways to keep our national parks safe for Margaret’s daughters and all of our children.

Margaret would like that.

Rest in peace, dear one, rest in Jesus. 

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