Gunman killed by park rangers planned July 4 mass shooting, park reveals

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A woman’s warning in Yellowstone National Park came in just after midnight on July 4th: She had just been held at gunpoint by a man who said he was planning a mass shooting — a random attack that is common in the U.S. these days, but not in the Yellowstone region, let alone the park itself.

Rangers spent the next few hours trying to find the gunman before he showed up outside a diner with 200 people inside, firing a barrage of bullets from a semi-automatic rifle into a service entrance.

The rangers — including one wounded — returned fire, hitting the attacker, Samson Lucas Bariah Fussner, 28, of Milton, Florida, who died at the scene in the busy Canyon Village tourist lodge area near the scenic Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

The details released by park officials Tuesday revealed a terrifying situation that could have ended badly, and raised new questions about the attacker’s intentions and motives.

Fussner’s Facebook page previously boasted about landing a concession job at Yellowstone, a typically seasonal gig that often involves cooking and serving food to the park’s 3 million summer visitors. Such jobs typically go to younger people in their early 20s; often, they’re college students traveling to the U.S. from various foreign countries.

Fussner posted a photo of his Xanterra Parks and Resorts badge and photos of himself in snowy Yellowstone scenes from mid-May, at the start of the summer tourist season. There are no reports suggesting anger or other motivation for the shooting.

And while Yellowstone is often in the news for sometimes fatal accidents involving wild animals and the famous park hot springsShootings — despite the park’s millions of visitors and the region’s high rate of gun ownership — are exceedingly rare. There has been no attack like this in the park in recent history.

The injured ranger was released from the hospital but has not been identified. The shooting prompted authorities to close Canyon Lodge, a complex of hotel rooms, cabins and dining facilities, until Wednesday.

The facilities are managed by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the primary concessionaire for such facilities in Yellowstone.

Shortly after midnight on July 4, park rangers learned that Fussner had held a woman against her will at gunpoint in a residence at Canyon Village, an inn and eatery. The woman reported that Fussner was threatening to kill her and others, including carrying out a mass shooting at Independence Day events outside the park, park officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Rangers found Fussner’s vehicle, but not him. More than 20 police rangers, including a special park response team, searched for Fussner while organizing to protect park visitors and employees.

Around 8 a.m. Thursday, police officers encountered Fussner as he approached a service entrance to the Canyon Lodge eatery and fired at him. Multiple officers fired at him and he died at the scene, the statement said.

There were no other injuries.

“Thanks to the heroic actions of our law enforcement officers, many lives were saved here last Thursday,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in the statement.

The FBI was investigating. National Park Service policy requires law enforcement officers involved in a shooting to be placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated, the statement said.

Park officials declined to comment immediately on whether any Yellowstone rangers had been suspended or how many weapons Fussner had in his possession.

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