A Massachusetts man is facing federal charges in the brutal attack Saturday of two Appalachian Trail hikers that left a man dead and a woman hospitalized with severe stab wounds, authorities said Sunday.
James Louis Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Mass., was taken into custody after Wythe County, Va., sheriff’s deputies located him along the trail in southwestern Virginia, by tracking an SOS signal triggered by one of the victims, officials said.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Western Virginia said in a statement Sunday that Jordan will be charged with murder, and assault with intent to murder, in connection with the attack. He is scheduled to appear in court in Abingdon, Va., on Monday.
“The whole Appalachian Trail community of hikers and volunteers is profoundly sickened by the horrific and deadly attack Saturday morning,” said Suzanne Dixon, president of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The names of the victims have not been released, but law enforcement described a horrific scene that involved multiple agencies in a combined effort along the famed scenic trail. It is high season for “thru-hikers” traveling the length of the trail, which stretches along 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. Hikers typically begin around spring and trek north.
The 1-mile length of the trail that passes through Wythe County Sheriff Keith Dunagan’s jurisdiction — about 350 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. — is extremely rural and full of hikers this time of year, authorities said.
Many began their trek in Georgia in March and would have traveled 500 miles by the time they reached southwestern Virginia, said Brian King, a spokesman for the Conservancy.
Dunagan’s deputies were the first to encounter Jordan, several yards from the scene of the attack Saturday. Authorities say the victims had reported that a man wielding a large knife, accompanied by a dog, had threatened a group of four hikers camped out late Friday night.
Jordan is accused of pursuing a pair of hikers who fled north, but they eluded him. Those two reached sheriff’s deputies in nearby Bland County, and reported the nighttime attack, authorities said. The other two hikers fled south, but were unable to escape and Jordan allegedly chased and caught up with them, authorities said.
Dunagan said the male victim managed to trigger an SOS signal on his phone and the mobile service provider alerted deputies to his location, just north of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. The woman — who suffered defensive wounds and was severely injured by the stabbing — escaped, authorities said.
“She pretended to be dead and when (Jordan) walked away after his dog, she took off running,” Dunagan said.
The woman found help in another group of hikers she encountered six miles away in Smyth County, Va., and was transported to the nearest trauma center, the sheriff said.
The Wythe County’s Sheriff’s office’s tactical team traveled four miles into the woods to locate the wounded man’s SOS signal. The office said the team initially came across walkers who described a knife-wielding man known as “Sovereign” who roamed the trail with a dog.
While authorities were talking to the group, a dog ambled over to the camp. Deputies followed the animal, who led them back to Jordan, and he was taken into custody.
Jordan, who authorities think is “Sovereign,” was well known to the community of hikers on the trail. Recent news reports of incidents in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia describe a man threatening and chasing other hikers with a machete or large knife.
King, of the trail conservancy, said they had heard of the man through alerts shared between hikers and on Trek, a well-read blog that posts frequent updates about life on the Appalachian Trail.
“He had a reputation because of his belligerence with other hikers in Tennessee and Georgia,” King said. “With smartphones, word gets around very quickly.”
A Bristol, Tenn., television station reported that Jordan pleaded guilty to drug and other charges after confronting hikers with a knife near the North Carolina border in late April. He was sentenced to probation, fined and released from custody.
Unicoi County, Tenn., Sheriff Mike Hensley told local news stations at the time that Jordan had been causing problems on the trail and was a “threat” to hikers. Hensley could not be reached Sunday.
Homicides are rare on the Appalachian Trail, according to statistics; the last time the trail was the scene of a homicide was in 2011 when a man was found strangled in Virginia. That case remains unsolved. More than 3 million people hike the trail each year and most hikers take care of one another, King said.
“It’s a community like any other. Anyone who loves the trail feels like this is an attack on them,” he said. “The trail is extremely safe but it’s not absolutely safe.”
The section of the trail where the attack occurred has since been reopened by authorities.