ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – A law enforcement ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park was injured during a shootout on Wednesday morning, the first exchange of gunfire involving a ranger in the park’s history. The shooting took place near the Fall River entrance to RMNP just outside of Estes Park, and it reopened overnight after being closed due to the investigation.
Kyle Patterson, spokesperson for RMNP, told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas the ranger conducted a traffic stop just after 10 a.m. after spotting a vehicle that was involved in a short pursuit with Colorado State Patrol near Loveland.
It isn’t clear if the suspect or the ranger fired their weapon first, but two people were hit by gunfire.
The car was being sought after CSP pulled the driver over along Highway 34 in Loveland by the Dam Store. The driver took off when the trooper returned to his vehicle. CSP gave short pursuit, before pulling back.
The suspect, witnesses said, was hit in the leg. The ranger was able to hold the suspects at gunpoint until backup arrived. The park ranger was hit in his protective vest.
“He hugged one of his buddies right afterwards. If that vest wouldn’t have been there I think he would have been dead,” said Joseph Maynes who recorded video of some of the interaction.
The park ranger was rushed to a nearby hospital with non life-threatening injuries, as was one of the two people in the vehicle.
In radio traffic, the ranger is heard calling out for assistance following shots fired.
“All units, 211 I have been hit,” the ranger, who has not been identified publicly, said. “I have been hit. I have hit the suspect as well,” the ranger said.
The ranger is then heard reporting that he shot one of the suspects. The ranger is heard screaming at the suspect to stay down. The suspect is then heard in the background screaming.
“And he was like, ‘Why can’t I talk?’” said witness Ryan Haase said of the suspect.
“Because you just shot me,” Haase recalled hearing the ranger reply.
Also on the ground was a woman who was in the car. She was not injured. The situation was tense, but resolved with no further violence.
“I can’t imagine the amount of adrenaline that was racing through the scene,” said Haase.
CBS4’s Dillon Thomas was the first reporter on scene shortly after the shootout. Several agencies responded to assist including Colorado State Patrol, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Estes Park Police and the RMNP Rangers.
Patterson said this was the first time in park history a law enforcement ranger was involved with a shooting, let alone shot. She said the staff at RMNP are thankful the bullet hit the ranger in his protective vest.
“During contact with the suspects the law enforcement ranger was shot, but was protected by their ballistic vest,” Patterson said. “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.”
The second person in the suspect’s vehicle was arrested on scene without injury.
While charges have not been announced against those who were involved in the pursuit or shooting, Patterson told CBS4 there could be additional charges due to the location. Bringing a firearm to the park isn’t illegal for law-abiding visitors. However, discharging a firearm on park lands can be a federal crime.
The identities of those involved were not released immediately, Patterson said the RMNP family is just glad the incident ended in a way that spared their colleague’s life.
“We are okay now because our colleague is okay,” Patterson said. “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.”
The Fall River entrance reopened at around 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday.