A Massachusetts man attacked two hikers with a machete in a “senseless and brutal” attack on the Appalachian Trail, killing one and severely injuring another, federal authorities said.
James L. Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, was arrested early Saturday on one count of murder and one count of assault after the fatal stabbing attack along a remote section of the 2,190-mile trail in Wythe County, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia.
Wythe County Sheriff Keith Dunagan told WSLS that Jordan – who is known along the trail as “Sovereign” – attacked a man and a woman with a machete while hiking early Saturday as they walked near Crawfish Road.
Jordan, while accompanied by a dog, had earlier threatened a group of four hikers late Friday, but two managed to escape and reached sheriff’s deputies in nearby Bland County. The two other hikers then fled south, but Jordan allegedly attacked them after chasing them down, Dunagan told the Roanoke Times.
The male victim, who later died, managed to trigger an SOS signal on his phone, alerting deputies to his location near the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The female victim — who had severe injuries, including defensive wounds – escaped the attack by acting as if she did not survive, Dunagan said.
“She pretended to be dead and when [Jordan] walked away after his dog, she took off running,” the sheriff told the newspaper.
Neither victim was immediately identified. The woman later found another group of hikers some six miles away in Smyth County, where she was taken to a trauma center, authorities said.
Deputies later tracked Johnson down after locating the wounded man’s SOS signal and a group of hikers who reported a man known as “Sovereign” who was carrying a large knife while on the trail with his dog. A 20-inch knife was later recovered near the trail, the Roanoke Times reported.
A 24-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail was closed on Saturday but has since reopened.
Jordan is expected to make his initial court appearance Monday in federal court in Abingdon. It’s unclear if he’s hired an attorney.
US Attorney Thomas Cullen, meanwhile, praised deputies in Wythe and Smyth counties for tracking Jordan down and rescuing the hikers in remote, unforgiving terrain.
“Thanks to their efforts, the suspect was safely apprehended and a seriously wounded victim received critical medical care,” Cullen said in a statement. “We will continue to work with our state and local partners to bring the perpetrator of this senseless and brutal attack to justice.”
Brian King, a spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, told the Roanoke Times that Jordan was known to some experienced hikers along the trail, particularly following reported incidents in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia of a man threatening and chasing people with a machete or a large knife.
“He had a reputation because of his belligerence with other hikers in Tennessee and Georgia,” King told the newspaper. “With smartphones, word gets around very quickly.”
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said Jordan pleaded guilty in late April to drug possession and criminal impersonation after a confrontation with hikers in Tennessee, near the North Carolina border. He received probation, but Jordan was known to regularly threaten hikers with violence. The ones in Tennessee declined to press assault charges against the Massachusetts man and testify against him in court, Hensley said.
“I did everything in my power to get this guy off the trail,” Hensley told the Roanoke Times. “And I took him off the trail, I did. But the courts deemed something else.”
The last reported homicide along the Appalachian Trail occurred in 2011 when a man was strangled in Amherst County, Virginia, according to the Roanoke Times, citing trail statistics. The slaying remains unsolved.
“It’s a community like any other,” King told the newspaper. “Anyone who loves the trail feels like this is an attack on them. The trail is extremely safe, but it’s not absolutely safe.”
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