Judge orders psych evaluation for Appalachian Trail suspect

By  | 

WYTHE COUNTY, Va. (AP) — UPDATE (2 p.m.):

James Jordan | Courtesy WVLT-TV / Southwest Regional Jail

For the past couple of weeks, hikers along the Appalachian Trial had been warning each other about a hiker who was threatening other hikers with a large knife.

The man, who had the trail nickname of "Sovereign," was arrested in North Carolina last month after some hikers reported him to authorities. But he was released after pleading guilty to possession of marijuana and other minor charges.

Over the weekend, matters turned deadly in southwestern Virginia, where he is accused of stabbing one hiker to death and seriously injuring another.

James Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, is charged with murder and assault with intent to commit murder. During his initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Virginia, a judge ordered him to be held in custody and to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Jordan repeatedly threatened four hikers late Friday and early Saturday before attacking them, according to federal authorities.

An FBI agent said in an affidavit filed in court that when Jordan initially approached the hikers he was acting in a "disturbed and unstable" manner while playing a guitar and singing. Later that night, Jordan began randomly approaching the hikers' tents, making noises and threatening them.

"Jordan spoke to the hikers through their tents, and threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death," FBI Special Agent Micah Childers wrote in the affidavit.

Fearing Jordan, all four hikers decided to pack up and leave their campsite. Two of them were chased by Jordan as they tried to leave, but managed to escape by turning off the lights they had strapped to their heads and veering off the trail into the woods, said Sheriff Thomas Roseberry of Bland County, Virginia, whose deputies interviewed the couple after they walked off the trail to report the incident.

"They described this guy as talking crazy and following them down the trail," he said.

The other two hikers also ran to get away from Jordan, but he caught the man first and stabbed him until he collapsed onto the ground, Childers wrote. Jordan then stabbed the woman repeatedly. She fell to the ground and played dead, and Jordan then left to find his dog, Childers wrote.

She remained hospitalized Monday. Her condition could not immediately be determined.

Authorities did not release the names of the victims. The attacks took place where a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) length of the trail passes through Wythe County. Jordan was arrested and taken into custody by deputies with the Wythe County Sheriff's Office.

Brian King, a spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said that at this time of the year the section of the trail in southwestern Virginia is usually packed with hikers making their way along the entire 2,100-mile length of the trail, from Georgia to Maine.

"We give a lot of safety advice, which people tend to follow, but with someone with an intent to do evil, how do you guard against that?" King said.

Sheriff Mike Hensley of Unicoi County, Tennessee, said he and his deputies did everything they could to keep Jordan locked up after he threatened hikers there and in other communities along the trail last month.

Hensley said hikers called his office in late April and said a man was threatening them and said: "It's going to be a bad day for hikers on the trail." He said he sent officers to the trail location described by the hikers, but the man was no longer there.

The next day, some other hikers complained about a man threatening them. Hensley said his officers found Jordan, who was intoxicated, and gave them a fake name and a fake identification. He was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and criminal impersonation.

Jordan pleaded guilty to the drug charges and was later released. Hensley said the judge ordered Jordan not to return to the Appalachian Trail, but he was not held in custody because none of the hikers were willing to testify in court.

"The fact is nobody wanted to step up to the plate and press charges," Hensley said. "They were on the trail walking and they didn't want to come back — they told my investigators that."

"It's just heartbreaking that this happened, and our prayers go out to the victims' families and to this young girl that was stabbed," he said. "I did everything that I could do. I did get this man off the trail. That's all I could do."

____________

Federal authorities say a man accused of killing one hiker and severely injuring another on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia had earlier acted "unstable" and allegedly threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death.

James Jordan, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was arrested Saturday.

He was due in court for an initial appearance Monday. Jordan's lawyer did not immediately return a call from the Associated Press seeking comment.

According to an affidavit, a hiking group of four people was in Smyth County on Saturday when Jordan approached them — they recognized him from social media as a suspicious person identified after an April incident in which he allegedly threatened hikers in Tennessee.

The hikers said he was acting "disturbed and unstable."

After they made camp that night, he returned, approaching them at random, according to the FBI, singing, playing his guitar, making noises and threatening them. Jordan spoke to the hikers through their tents, "threatening to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death," the documents stated.

Two of the hikers were able to get out of the campsite, fleeing in fear of Jordan, and he chased them with a knife, according to the documents. However, they were able to get away.

He then reportedly returned to the campsite and argued with the two remaining hikers, a man and woman, before beginning to stab the man. The woman ran away, but Jordan caught up to her and stabbed her as well, continuing to attack until she "played dead, at which point Jordan left to find his dog," the documents state.

The woman survived the attack – according to the affidavit, two other hikers found her later and helped her hike six miles back into Smyth County to call 911.

At around 2:30 a.m., the other two hikers from the group, who had run away, called 911 to report that they had been chased by a man with a machete, according to the documents. The affidavit refers to the weapon used as a knife.

At 3:12 a.m., the second stabbing victim's 911 call was received by the Smyth County 911 Center, and she was taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center for treatment of puncture wounds consistent with stabbing.

A Wythe County Sheriff's Office's tactical team then searched the campsite around 6:14 a.m., where they found Jordan with blood stains on his clothing. They also found the first stabbing victim dead, with a knife near his body.

The female victim and the two hikers who fled identified Jordan as the attacker.

According to the FBI documents, the investigation revealed that there is probable cause to charge Jordan with murder and attempted murder. He will face his first court hearing on Monday where charges will be formally announced.