In stopping Yellowstone shooter, rangers saved 'many lives,' park says

Posted 7/9/24

When Yellowstone National Park rangers shot and killed a 28-year-old Florida man last week, they saved the lives of many others, the park’s top official says.

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In stopping Yellowstone shooter, rangers saved 'many lives,' park says


(Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information from the National Park Service.)

When Yellowstone National Park rangers shot and killed a 28-year-old Florida man last week, they saved the lives of many others, the park’s top official says.

A Tuesday news release from the park says Samson “Lucas” Fussner of Milton, Florida, had begun firing toward a busy Canyon Village dining facility just before getting into a shootout with rangers. The incident occurred around 8 a.m., when roughly 200 people were inside the Canyon Lodge dining rooms.

"Thanks to the heroic actions of our law enforcement rangers, many lives were saved here last Thursday," Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in the release. "These rangers immediately confronted this shooter and took decisive action to ensure he was no longer a threat to public safety."

The release says officers had been searching for Fussner since just after midnight. That’s when a woman called 911 to report Fussner had held her at gunpoint and threatened to kill her and others; the park says that allegedly included statements about carrying out a mass shooting or shootings at July 4 events outside the park.

More than 20 rangers — including the park’s special response team — searched for Fussner, the release says, but they only found his empty vehicle in the Canyon area. While he remained at large, “law enforcement rangers were strategically deployed to protect areas with park visitors and employees while searching for Fussner, and the park’s 911 dispatch center notified surrounding jurisdictions,” the release said.

According to information broadcast by the Park County Sheriff’s Office and obtained by NPS Ranger News, area law enforcement agencies were asked to be on the lookout for Fussner, as there was concern he'd left the park and possibly headed to Cody or West Yellowstone, Montana. In summarizing the park’s alert, a dispatcher said Fussner was suspected to have “held a female at gunpoint and threatened suicide by cop” and “did threaten to shoot up a fireworks show somewhere in West Yellowstone or Montana.”

Ultimately, Fussner was found in the Canyon Village area: rangers posted near Canyon Lodge spotted him around 8 a.m. Thursday. According to the park’s release, Fussner began walking toward the service entrance of a dining area while firing a semi-automatic rifle. He and the officers at the scene exchanged gunfire, leaving Fussner dead and one ranger with a wound to a “lower extremity.”

The ranger was take to an area hospital, treated and later released, the park service said, while Fussner's body was turned over to Park County Coroner Cody Gortmaker on Thursday night. A Friday autopsy confirmed that Fussner “died from injuries sustained by Yellowstone Park rangers,” Gortmaker said.

A cursory check of court records in the Milton, Florida, area turned up no notable criminal records for Fussner. He’d had been working for park concessionaire Xanterra, with his employee badge indicating that his employment was set to run through mid-September.

In the wake of Thursday’s “major law enforcement incident,” Xanterra temporarily closed the lodging and dining facilities it operates at Canyon Village.

“We are taking this step out of respect and care for our staff members,” Xanterra said in a statement to park guests, adding that, “We know this is an extreme inconvenience, and we are very sorry.”

Canyon is one of Yellowstone’s larger developed areas, with 400 rooms inside a lodge, 120 cabins and 280 campsites. Enough travelers were displaced by the closures that Xanterra warned those calling about reservations that “hold times may be long due to high call volumes.”

The campground reopened Monday night, many other services were restored Tuesday and all operations were set to be back on normal schedules by Wednesday.

"We wish to express our sincere gratitude to our Canyon Lodge and Canyon Campground teams for facilitating this reopening so quickly, and under such trying conditions," Xanterra said in a Tuesday update, adding to guests that, "We appreciate your understanding as we prioritized our staff and community."

In addition to housing visitors, Canyon Village includes four employee dormitories for some 425 Xanterra employees, according to a company fact sheet; a photo obtained and published by NPS Ranger News showed armed officers entering one of those dorms in the wake of Thursday’s incident.

“The FBI, with support from the NPS, Xanterra and other partners, is providing victim/witness support to anyone who was involved in the incident,” the park service said in Tuesday’s statement, with Sholly adding that they “are working now to provide maximum support to those involved and their families.”

“We appreciate the support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, and many other partners as we continue to manage through the aftermath of this incident,” Sholly added.

As per standard park service policy, the rangers involved in the shooting will be placed on administrative leave while an investigation is underway. The FBI is leading that effort, with the findings ultimately reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming.

According to NPS Ranger News, the July 4 shooting marked roughly the 120th officer-involved shooting in National Park Service history and at least the 15th time a ranger has been shot.