By Laura Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A body found face down in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park is that of an Iraq war veteran suspected of killing a park ranger, then fleeing into the wilderness, authorities said on Monday.
Park spokeswoman Lee Snook said the body was confirmed to be that of 24-year-old Benjamin Colton Barnes, who was suspected of shooting ranger Margaret Anderson dead on Sunday when she stopped his vehicle at a roadblock.
Snook said Barnes' body had been found lying face down in the snow and partially submerged in the Paradise River above Narada Falls following an exhaustive manhunt by 200 local, state and federal law enforcement agents.
She said the body was discovered wearing only a T-shirt, pants and one tennis shoe and that a gun was found about 50 yards away.
"The conjecture is he died from exposure to the elements," Snook said, adding that temperatures dipped into the 20s overnight in Mt. Rainier National Park.
The body, which was initially spotted from the air by search and rescue teams, had "no heat signature," Washington State Patrol spokesman Guy Gill said in a tweet.
Authorities say Barnes fled into the backcountry following the shooting death of Anderson, 34, on New Year's Day, which prompted the massive search and the evacuation of some 125 tourists from the park.
"Like any criminal, he's not important. Our emphasis is on Margaret," Pierce County Fire Chief Garry Olson said, remembering the slain ranger as "friendly, dedicated and a hard worker."
Residents of Eatonville, where Anderson lived, were shaken by the death of the popular park ranger.
"It's just very sad, everyone in town knew her," said Teresa Mackey, manager of the Cruiser Cafe in Eatonville, just west of the park.
Of Barnes, she said: "People are very happy he's been found."
The former U.S. Army private was also suspected in a separate shooting incident on early New Year's Day that injured three men and a woman at a house party in the Skyway neighborhood of Renton, Washington near Seattle, according to the King County Sheriff's Department.
Barnes received a Chapter 14 misconduct discharge in November of 2009 after being charged by civilian authorities with driving under the influence and improperly transporting a privately owned weapon, Army officials said.
He served one tour of duty in Iraq, the officials said.
Photographs released by authorities showed a heavily tattooed Barnes with the words "Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust" on the back of his neck.
The park, which is about 80 miles southeast of Seattle, was expected to remain closed to visitors until Wednesday, Snook said.
About 1.7 million visitors traveled in 2010 to Mount Rainier National Park, established by Congress on March 2, 1899.
More than 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow cover Mount Rainier, 14,410 feet above sea level.
(Additional reporting by Mary Slosson and Dan Whitcomb, Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune and Barbara Goldberg)