Benjamin Colton Barnes: The death of an American soldier-killer


Fleeing for his life, Benjamin Colton Barnes, Iraq War veteran, took to the snowy wilderness of Mount Rainier National Park on New Year’s Day. Wearing only sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt, he managed to elude authorities for hours, making it several miles on foot through the frozen wilderness.

His body was spotted from a search plane the following morning hours ahead of a pursuing SWAT team equipped with winter gear and snowshoes. Given how far back they fell off his trail, it’s evident the SWAT team was in no rush to reach him.

As darkness set in and temperatures dropped below freezing, the unlucky private slogged on, desperate and deranged, while the search team hunkered down to wait for the inevitable: the death of yet another broken and malfunctioning American soldier.

Private Barnes, 24, had been in trouble for a long time. He’d been discharged from the Army for alcohol issues and had lost a child custody battle. He was also dealing with the suicide of a close friend and fellow Iraq veteran who killed himself two months earlier.

In his addled state, Barnes never imagined that his pursuers could be hours behind him. He knew he was facing extermination at their hands. So he thrashed on by starlight until his legs, long numb with cold, simply stopped responding. Like a well-trained soldier, he went on until he could go no further.

His body was discovered half-submerged in Paradise Creek bordered by high bluffs of snow, the cause of death drowning with hypothermia a contributing factor. The search team, when they finally reached him, took pictures of themselves at the scene. They observed he had lost a sneaker in the chase.

The only reason the death of Benjamin Colton Barnes has attracted such attention is because he did not go alone. After driving past a park checkpoint on New Year’s Day, fleeing an incident in which he opened fire on a New Year’s Eve party wounding four people, he fired upon a park ranger who blocked the road with her vehicle. She later bled to death.

Had Barnes simply headed off into the frozen wilderness to die, his story would have been unexceptional. After all, scores of returning veterans, traumatized and afflicted, have committed suicide over the last decade. While their deaths are viewed as tragic or unfortunate, they have become an acceptable consequence of war.

Maybe exposing our sons and daughters to the ravages of war has become too easy for us.

Until all our children share in the risk of military service by way of a draft or compulsory service, war will remain an attractive option for politicians looking to make statements. Only an involved and engaged population with sons and daughters at risk has an incentive to keep the government under control.

Our birds are coming home to roost, one by one. When they did as they were told, we extolled them. When they went off the tracks, we abandoned them. Now they are landing among us, firing their weapons in our faces and freezing to death in sneakers in the shadows of our mountains.

The Department of Homeland Security is now listing returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans as psychologically unstable and susceptible to recruitment by terrorist organizations.

Welcome home.




6 thoughts on “Benjamin Colton Barnes: The death of an American soldier-killer

  1. This is so tragic all around, and while I definitely grieve for the dead ranger, I cannot help but mourn as deeply for the man who shot and killed her. Benjamin Colton Barnes is a fascinating individual. Looking at his photos one sees so much promise and all-in-all a good face, and yet, one of the lost young which we children of the 60s have so deformed by our own neglect. How our generation has botched up our society and turned civilization on its head. It has to be attributable to the diabolic. Both individuals were victims of our loss of morality and all I can pray is that both killed and killer had the time to make their peace with Our Lord for all humans face the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven or Hell. May their souls rest in peace!

  2. Fortunately for your husband, I don’t believe the type of discharge is a bar to receiving treatment and assistance from the VA. The best thing to do is to call the VA or go to one of their Vet Centers for more information. You can find a link to that information under Vet Support on this website. Keep up your efforts.

  3. I am trying to keep the fight going. He did use the pills to cope with the harassment from command. Will the VA still help him if he is discharged? JAG said it will be a bad conduct discharge. I am in the process of writing a congressional inquiry in reference to pre trial punishment and for the army’s lack of help when they knew he had a problem. It has been a tough fight but I have made his unit aware I am not backing down. I beleive ever soldier deserves help when needed, not just ignored and thrown away like trash. I have contacted several senators and I will continue to make myself heard. This is ridiculious how our soldiers are being treated after fighting for our country. My husband is so close to giving up.

  4. Shanya,
    Keep fighting for your husband. He is in a mental place where he is in dire need of friends and support. Although the Army may not be willing to address his addiction, which is likely a coping mechanism to deal with his stress, hopefully the VA, which is not connected to the Army, will. I went to them after numerous stress-related problems in my life, including a high-speed collision that shattered my body and left me unable to walk for six months, and they have helped manage my condition. Document everything that is happening to your husband, all of his symptoms, all of his episodes, and hopefully if and when he is discharged (which seems likely given the confinement and AWOL charges) he will receive the professional care and treatment he needs from an organization that is best suited to give it, the VA. Keep fighting. Alex

  5. Why is it the military waits till its too late to help these soldiers?? I am a army wife in a fight with the army for their lack of helping my husband. He served 2 tours in Iraq and has 13 years of service. He became addicted to pain pills that the army prescribed. Now he sits in confinement waiting on court martial for AWOL due to stress from command staff and addiction. When will they take blame for their lack of help? I am determined to keep fighting the army. Fort Carson just had a suicide on the 7th, once again they failed this soldier..

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