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Mt. Rainier shooting suspect from Riverside County likely suffered PTSD

January 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
More information has been discovered about 24-year-old Benjamin Barnes, the Iraq War veteran accused of fatally shooting a park ranger in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park. That happened after a shooting rampage at a New Year's Eve house party outside Seattle.

Barnes was from Riverside County. Barnes contacted a local veterans organization there.

Barnes had a troubled transition back to civilian life after his tour in Iraq, according to court documents.

Vietnam veteran and founder of the National Veterans Foundation, Shad Meshad, says Barnes called his organization for help in June.

"Benjamin called our line, generically asking for healthcare benefits," said Meshad, National Veterans Foundation founder and president. "He was probably really on the verge then of really doing something crazy. But we don't know that. They're not deprogrammed when they come back and they have symptoms of PTSD or traumatic brain injury, things are going to happen, and they're going to be tragic."

Meshad defends veterans in criminal court. He projects the wave of suicide and violent crime from troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will last for the next three decades. One in four veterans comes home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"People forget," said Meshad. "They look at the soldiers as these sweet guys, 'Support the troops.' These are trained, professional killers. And you spend all those years training. You're in combat with multiple tours, you come home, and what do you expect to be? Johnny 15 years ago, five years ago, four years ago? You've changed."

Barnes' body was found in deep snow in Mt. Rainier National Park Monday. Authorities believe he was trying to escape after fatally shooting Park Ranger Margaret Anderson.

There were earlier signs of trouble. The mother of Barnes' toddler daughter sought a restraining order against him, saying he was suicidal, easily depressed and angry, and had threatened to kill himself.

Meshad says it's a scenario of antisocial behavior that is likely to continue because there aren't enough resources to deprogram and treat troops returning from combat.

"They have seen death. They have participated in death and they come back, and it takes a long time," said Meshad. "It takes counseling for PTSD or even the traumatic brain injury to deprogram them and bring them back into society."

Meshad says the National Veterans Foundation referred Barnes to the Seattle Veterans Affairs office in June, and never heard from him again. Then Barnes made national news for his shooting rampage.