When Margaret Anderson was killed Sunday at Mount Rainier, she and her husband were living their dream, finally working as park rangers in the same national park while raising a young family.

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Margaret Anderson and her husband, Eric, were living their dream, finally working as U.S. park rangers in the same national park while raising a young family, their relatives said Sunday.

“They had been looking for that for a long time, to be in the same park,” Margaret Anderson’s father, the Rev. Paul Kritsch, said in a telephone interview.

Kritsch, a Lutheran minister in Scotch Plains, N.J., recalled his 34-year-old daughter’s life, hours after she was fatally shot while working at her law-enforcement job in Mount Rainier National Park.

“As you can well imagine, it doesn’t seem real,” he said of her death.

Margaret and Eric Anderson worked at Mount Rainier for about four years after meeting at a national park in Utah and then moving about the country early in their careers.

The couple’s older daughter, Anna, will turn 4 on Feb. 14, Kritsch said. The younger, Katie, will turn 2 in May.

“Margaret is a wonderful, wonderful young lady,” her mother-in-law, Cynthia Anderson, of Hanson, Mass., said in a telephone interview.

Eric Anderson is “devastated” by his wife’s slaying, she said, her voice choking with emotion.

The couple, who lived in Eatonville, met when both worked as park rangers at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah in the early 2000s.

Margaret Anderson began as a seasonal ranger at Bryce Canyon, then gained additional federal law-enforcement training in Georgia shortly after the couple married in 2005, her father said.

The two had become engaged in December 2004, while she was living in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., working as a ranger at the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

He worked at Yellowstone National Park and later moved to Triangle, Va., working as a ranger in Prince William Forest Park in Virginia, according to a wedding announcement in a New Jersey newspaper.

While on the East Coast, the couple were offered jobs at Mount Rainier, Cynthia Anderson said.

“That is why they decided to go out there,” Anderson said. “It’s beautiful out there.”

Both were “very outdoorsy” and “very religious,” she said, and “thrilled” about their life.

“They have a home, two beautiful girls,” Anderson said.

The couple’s next-door neighbor, Adam Norton, said the Anderson family had lived in Eatonville for only about a year, and he regularly saw Margaret walking with her little girls.

“Margaret was always outside with the girls pushing the youngest around in the stroller while the other girl was on her bike,” Norton said.

Kritsch, her father, said the couple’s girls were the most important part of their lives. “They loved their little girls for sure,” he said.

Margaret Anderson was born near Toronto and grew up in Connecticut and Westfield, N.J., where she graduated from high school in 1995, her father said.

In high school, she performed in the marching band. She also was an artist who loved to paint.

She earned a bachelor of science degree in fisheries and wildlife biology from Kansas State University in 1999 and, five years later, earned a master of science degree in biology from Fort Hays State University in Kansas.

Mount Rainier spokesman Kevin Bacher, who attends the same church as Margaret Anderson, said Sunday, “I had to break the news to a couple of people on our staff and the immediate reaction is shock. We’re a small, close-knit staff and when you hear something like this, it’s like getting punched in the gut.”

As a ranger, Anderson didn’t just patrol, Bacher said. She also helped supervise a snow-play area at Paradise, and until recently had coordinated medical training for the staff, he said.

“She’s a sweet person,” he said. “Very personable, very friendly, always has a smile for everyone.”

Kritsch, who plans to fly to Seattle with his wife Monday, said his daughter was “very good” at her job and liked being a “good friend” and “good neighbor,” who loved people and “made everybody safer.”

“We’re going to miss her terribly and already are and can’t believe she is gone,” he said.

Staff reporters Craig Welch and Jack Broom, and news researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com