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Park visitor: Slain ranger 'saved my life'

TACOMA, Wash. -- A visitor who was the last civilian to speak with Margaret Anderson before she was killed believes the Mount Rainier National Park ranger saved his life by happenstance.

Jeremy Best tells The News Tribune of Tacoma that he and some friends from church went to the park on New Year's Day to snowshoe. He said Anderson had shown the group where to park and they chatted briefly.

AP

Margaret Anderson

Anderson was interrrupted by a call about a motorist who illegally drove past a snow-tire checkpoint. She drove out of the parking lot and back down the road.

Moments later, at a roadblock, a gunman opened fire on her before she could get out of her car. The 34-year-old mother of two died at the scene.

The man believed to be the killer, Benjamin Colton Barnes, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran, was found dead on Monday in a snowy creek on the mountain. Authorities believe Barnes, who was also a suspect in an ealier New Year's shooting at a house party in Skyway, south of Seattle, that left four people injured, died because of the hypothermia.

"I’m positive she saved my life," Best said of Anderson.

"I was talking to her just minutes before it happened. If that car came up the road, if he had an automatic weapon, I wouldn’t be here. If it wasn’t for what she did – we were 10 minutes away from walking over to put on our snowshoes. He would have been up there and doing ...”

You can read the full News Tribune story about Jeremy Best's account here.

Other hikers and park visitors also mourned the loss of a park ranger.

On NWHikers.net, a person with the username "kayakbear" described seeing planes and helicopters circling the mountain over their campsite in search of the gunman.

"The chopper swoops back over us, and drops a coffee cup that reads: "A ranger has been shot shooter at large. Call on cell if able to Pierce Co sheriff" so we hurry even more to get out. An hour later cup #2 comes: "Take road to falls and sheriff deputies. We will keep an eye on you. Do not drive from paradise w/o armed escort."

After we are all packed, the chopper comes back over us, gives us a signal to go ahead, and we start up the road. The chopper alternates between flying around the area and staying just ahead of us on the road. I've never had a helicopter escort before! At this point, we are all pretty worried, since we have nothing but snow shovels and we are having paranoid visions of a sniper bearing down on us. As we just turn the bend in the road, we run into the US Forest Tactical team sent out to get us. They are all armed with assault rifles, camo and enough gear to keep them out for a few long days. As we meet them they get a radio call that the shooter has been found, facedown in a stream dead. They escort us back to the end of the road just above narada falls where the ranger's truck is. Bullet holes and everything.

Another person with the username markh752 wrote on a NWHikers.net forum:

"As someone who got turned away at MRNP this morning, I would like thank the unknown ranger who recognized this person and/or his vehicle and tried to initiate the original stop. The park officials also did a great job of shutting down the park and locking down their facilities. There is a lot of law enforcement still up their in the cold and dark trying to apprehend this individual. And I am guessing that there is a 100 or so people at Paradise who are thankful for Margaret Anderson's bravery and heroism in not allowing this individual to reach the facilities at Paradise."

"A very unfortunate incident to all that were involved.  Margaret was a good lady, wife, mother, and Ranger.  She will be missed," read another post by HundsSolo.

Read msnbc.com's previous coverage of the search for the gunman here.

The National Park Service has also set up a memorial page where people can leave reflections on Anderson. 

More content from msnbc.com and NBC News:

NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.