Rocky Mountain National Park would close Wednesday, Dec. 8 after a park ranger was forced to return fire on a vehicle pursuit suspect. This marks the first ranger-involved gunfire exchange in the park’s long history.
According to the park, the Fall River entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park has since reopened. For much of Wednesday, however, the entrance remained closed due to a ranger-involved shootout.
Once the ranger would enter the situation, a suspect opened fire. Thankfully, his ballistic vest provided protection from serious injury, says park spokesperson Kyle Patterson. The ranger would then return fire and injure one of the suspects.
“He hugged one of his buddies right afterwards. If that vest wouldn’t have been there I think he would have been dead,” Joseph Maynes, who recorded video of some of the interaction, tells 4 CBS Denver.
Patterson adds the initial pursuit took place outside Rocky Mountain National Park. But once the suspects entered the park it became rangers’ duty. Afterward, both the ranger and the suspect would receive treatment at a local hospital. The second suspect, who emerged uninjured, would go directly into custody.
“During contact with the suspects the law enforcement ranger was shot, but was protected by their ballistic vest,” he continues. “We are a close knit group in Rocky Mountain National Park. When you hear of a report like this it is extremely disturbing and troubling.”
Discharging a Firearm in Rocky Mountain National Park Typically ‘A Federal Crime’
For the duration of the shootout and following investigation, the area outside the Fall River Entrance and over to Deer Ridge Junction remained closed while officials investigated. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is leading the investigation.
Early on Wednesday morning, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith would give an update on the shooting via Facebook. Within, he notes the local sheriff’s office will also provide assistance to the FBI in this investigation.
So far, charges are unknown for those involved in the pursuit or shooting, Patterson tells CBS4. He cites, however, that there “could be additional charges due to the location” within Rocky Mountain National Park.
Patterson says bringing a firearm to the park isn’t illegal for law-abiding visitors. Discharging a firearm on park lands, however, can be and typically is a federal crime.
Right now, Patterson says the RMNP family is just glad it’s all over, and wound up sparing their colleague’s life.
“We are okay now because our colleague is okay,” he offers. “That’s where we are sitting right now, realizing that this is something that can happen anywhere… And we are just relieved that our colleague is safe.”