Off Beat: Mount Rainier shooting hits local ranger personally, professionally

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There’s often a gulf of a century or more between Greg Shine and the people who are the focus of his work.

As a National Park Service ranger and historian, Shine usually doesn’t have a personal stake in his job.

But a week ago, Shine’s assignment suddenly became very immediate and very tragic: Ranger Margaret Anderson was shot to death on New Year’s Day at Mount Rainier National Park.

Shine, who is based at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, said he didn’t know Anderson, but he has friends who work at Mount Rainier National Park. And, he said, all those who wear the badge of a ranger are part of an extended family.

Mount Rainier authorities activated a multi-agency response system. Law enforcement officers searched for the killer, some responders cleared visitors from the park and counselors helped people through the grieving process.

Shine was called north to serve as a temporary park spokesman, which is how he wound up as part of a story in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times and in Associated Press coverage. His three-day stint at Mount Rainier started on Monday, Jan. 2.

“My plan was to watch the Rose Bowl. I never thought I’d be talking to the L.A. Times,” he said.

Shine was assigned to an administrative center west of the main Nisqually entrance. There, he and three Mount Rainier staff members fielded calls.

“My role was responding to media queries: ‘What’s going on? Have they caught him?’

“It still is an ongoing investigation, so there was a balance there. You want to make sure you’re providing factual information, but you don’t want to compromise an active investigation,” he said.

“The employees who were working there all knew Margaret and her family. Talk about grace under pressure.”

After Shine returned, another Fort Vancouver ranger joined the incident management team at Mount Rainier. Aaron Ochoa will be an assistant public information officer heading into Tuesday’s memorial service for Anderson in Tacoma.

Earlier tragedy

Shine also responded to the death of a ranger in 2004. Suzanne Roberts stopped to clear a rock slide on a road in Haleakala National Park in Hawaii and was killed by a falling boulder.

Her family was in Portland, and park service officials didn’t want to notify them by telephone, so Shine got the job.

“I had to do the next-of-kin notification,” Shine said. “I was teamed with a chaplain from the Portland Police Bureau.”

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.