Former Westfield resident Margaret Kritsch Anderson, 34, was shot and killed Sunday, Jan. 1 in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, according to the National Park Service.
A 1995 graduate who went on to pursue her dream of becoming a park ranger, Anderson was shot while on duty New Year's Day during what began as a routine traffic stop.
The body of Benjamin Colton Barnes, an Iraq War veteran whom authorities believe fired the shots that killed Anderson, was found Monday afternoon on the slopes of the park. Authorities believe Barnes initially fled to the remote area to hide following an earlier shooting at a New Year's party near Seattle that left four wounded, two critically, before he shot Anderson later in the day.
The park ranger, remembered for her love of art, marching band and the outdoors, was living in Mount Rainier with her husband Eric and their young children. Anderson met her husband when the two worked together as park rangers at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah nearly a decade ago. They married in 2005 and had two daughters, Anna, 3, and Katie, 1.
WHS Principal Peter Renwick said that while he did not know Anderson as he has only been at the school for the past four years, a number of teachers remembered her well.
"Margaret is remembered as a very bright and caring young lady who had many good friends here at Westfield High School," Renwick said. "Margaret was also known to be full of school spirit and she truly enjoyed her high school experience. Margaret was a loyal and enthusiastic member of the WHS marching Band and she also greatly enjoyed playing on the volleyball team. Those who knew Margaret well understood why she chose to be a park ranger as she was always committed to serving others."
Anderson's father, Paul Kritsch is the pastor at in Westfield. He and his wife Dorothy, Anderson's mother, live in Scotch Plains
Jim Buckman, a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church, remembered Anderson as both extremely bright and "a Godly woman."
"She graduated at the top of her class," he said. "She was doing what she wanted to do. This is what she really felt called to do."
Buckman, who visited with the Kritsches Sunday evening at their home, said the couple left for Washington at 5 a.m. Monday.
"They have—both of them—a very strong faith," he said. "Their faith is helping them tremendously at this time. They're still people and they're still parents. They're still a mother and a father with the same emotions and the same reality but their faith, and not only their faith, but the knowledge of the faith of their daughter, is every bit as important and even more important to them at this time."
"Our hearts are broken at this tragedy," said Ann Minski, also a member of the church who has known the family for more than 25 years. "We are praying without ceasing for the family and also that others are kept out of danger."
Assembly Republican Conference Leader Jon Bramnick, also a Westfield resident, issued the following statement: “Ranger Margaret Anderson made the ultimate sacrifice yesterday while stopping an armed gunman in Mount Rainier National Park. Ranger Anderson’s selfless actions protected the lives of families vacationing in the park on New Year's Day. The thoughts and prayers of the Westfield community and the State of New Jersey are with Margaret’s husband and two young children.”
"A lot of church members have expressed that we also offer prayers for the murderer," Buckman said. "Prayers for his relationship with God and also for honesty for his conscience to convict him and for him to turn himself in.
"We also want to say a prayer for the people who are responsible for catching him. We want to pray for their safety and we want to pray for their success and that it happens swiftly. Vengeance is not ours but justice is the responsibility of those to whom we have entrusted it."
A prayer service will be held Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church. A time of gathering will begin at 5 p.m. and childcare will be provided. All are welcome to attend.
On Sunday, Jan. 8, the Bishop for New Jersey, Rev. Bill Klettke will preach at both the 8:30 and 11 a.m. services.