Man Charged in Deadly Machete Attack on Hikers Walking the Appalachian Trail

May 13, 2019 Updated: May 13, 2019

A man has been charged with murder following a knife attack on hikers walking the Appalachian trail in Virginia.

James Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Mass. was arrested on May 11 on a federal complaint in connection with what the district attorney’s office termed a “deadly stabbing incident” that left person one dead and one with serious injuries.

The incident was initially described as a machete attack by the local sheriff’s office, although it is now unclear that a machete was used.

Jordan was previously arrested on the trail three weeks ago with a 17-inch knife in his possession, according to local reports.

The identities of the two victims of the attack have not yet been released by authorities.

The Western Virginia district attorney did not provide details of the attack, but confirmed that Jordan is charged with one count of murder and one count of assault with the intent to murder.

Because the alleged assault occurred on federal land, he is facing a federal complaint.

Appalachian Mount Rogers National Recreation Area
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area on the Appalachian trail, where a hiker was murdered on May 11, 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

It is currently high season for attempts to trek the entire 2,000 miles of the trail. The thousands of hikers form a loose-knit traveling community as they typically make their way northwards from Georgia in the spring, tracing the favorable shift in seasons.

Jordan, who goes by the moniker “Sovereign” was a well-known figure on the trail, according to local media reports, with other hikers claiming he had harassed and threatened them.

The female attack victim, who is believed to be the survivor, was found by a couple of hikers after she had walked six miles, injured and bleeding, law enforcement said, according to 10 News.

“She pretended to be dead and when [Jordan] walked away after his dog, she took off running,” Wythe County Sheriff Keith Dunagan told The Washington Post.

Dunagan told 10 News they traced the male victim by GPS technology after he sent an emergency notification on his cellphone.

“They pinged it on the Wythe County side of the trail,” said Dunagan. “So, the phone company notified us and that’s when we went up there and found the suspect and the victim,” Dunagan said. “We had our whole [tactical] team out there, so he wisely just surrendered himself.”

According to The Post, sheriff’s deputies had received reports of a man threatening a group of four hikers camped out late on May 10. Two fled northward, two southward. Jordan initially pursued the two who fled north. When they gave him the slip, he turned south, caught up with the other two hikers, and attacked them.

Jordan had been arrested in April after reports that he assaulted other hikers, but in the end was found guilty of criminal possession, according to the Herald Courier.

He was sentenced to probation and then returned to the trail.

Two hikers told WHJL that each time they saw Jordan on the trail his personality “got worse.” Sometimes he would hiss like a cat at people, and was ill-prepared for cold or wet weather.

Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley had earlier issued photographs of Jordan with his pitbull dog.

Jordan trail
James Jordan on the Appalachian trail with his dog. (Unicoi County Sheriff)

Hensley told The Post that he knew Jordan was a threat, but said hikers refused to press assault charges and testify against him in court. “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.”

“We have never had but just a few instances concerning the Appalachian Trail, and I take it very seriously,” he said.

The trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

“The Trail travels through 14 states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian Mountain Range, from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine,” the Conservancy website states.

Over 3 million people visit the trail each year, and around 3,000 annually attempt the “thru-hike” in a single year, which usually takes between five and seven months.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey
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