FBI identifies man killed in Appalachian Trail attack

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WYTHE COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the man killed in a violent attack along the Appalachian Trail in southwest Virginia this past weekend.

According to the FBI’s Richmond Division, 43-year-old Ronald S. Sanchez Jr., of Oklahoma, died of injuries he allegedly sustained at the hands of 30-year-old James Jordan.

Investigation continues into the incident, and law enforcement does not plan to release the identities of the surviving hikers at this time.

"Please respect the privacy of these hikers as they heal from the physical and emotional wounds sustained during last weekend’s incident," the FBI stated in a release.

Jordan, who was known to AT hikers due to alleged threats he had made in Tennessee last month and an arrest in North Carolina on minor charges, allegedly approached a group of four hikers, including Sanchez, on May 11, playing a guitar, singing, and making threatening statements while acting in a "disturbed and unstable" manner.

According to court documents, he later threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death.

Fearing Jordan, all four hikers decided to pack up and leave their campsite, the FBI states in records. 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 Sanchez 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 as of Monday. Her condition could not immediately be determined.

According to the affidavit, two other hikers found her after the attack and helped her hike six miles back into Smyth County to call 911. At 3:12 a.m., her 911 call was received by the Smyth County 911 Center, and she was taken to Bristol Regional Medical Center for treatment of stab wounds.

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 Sanchez dead, with a knife near his body.

The female victim and the two hikers who fled identified Jordan as the attacker. He has been sent for a psychiatric evaluation.

The attacks took place where a 1-mile length of the trail passes through Wythe County.

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."