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To Survive Appalachian Trail Attack, She Played Dead

Female hiker survives assault as trail community is jolted by rare violence
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2019 12:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – This is peak season for spring hikers venturing out on the Appalachian Trail, but a rare slaying has cast a pall over things. James Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Mass., is accused of stabbing to death a male hiker in southwest Virginia and attacking a woman who then played dead to survive. The AP reports that a judge has ordered Jordan to undergo a psychiatric exam as new details emerge about him and the attack itself:

  • Weeks of trouble: The trail community has a vibrant communication system, including blogs and apps, and hikers had been warning about Jordan for weeks, reports the New York Times. He'd reportedly been acting belligerently and making threats as he moved north with his dog through Tennessee and Virginia.
  • The attack: An FBI affidavit say four hikers report Jordan was "acting disturbed and unstable" on the trail Friday evening. When the four set up camp that night, they say he threatened to burn their tents and kill them. And when they decided to leave, two of the campers say Jordan chased them with a machete. They escaped, but he allegedly returned to camp, argued with a male, then stabbed him to death. The remaining woman fled, but the affidavit says Jordan caught up with her and stabbed her even as she put up her hands to surrender.

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  • Escape, arrest: The woman played dead, then ran when Jordan left her to find his dog, according to the affidavit. She met up with two hikers on the trail who helped her make it six miles to safety. She called 911, as did the two hikers who escaped, and the male victim managed to send out an SOS on his phone before he died. When police arrived to investigate using GPS coordinates from the SOS alert, they say Jordan's dog met them and led them to him. He was taken into custody.
  • Rare killing: “It is safer on the trail than getting to it,” a spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy tells the Times. In 45 years of record-keeping, this is the 10th murder on the 2,190-mile trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine.
  • The culture: The trail has a welcoming, peaceful, and helpful culture for hikers, notes the Washington Post. “It’s an accepting community of people trying to find themselves,” says one "trail angel," a person dedicated to helping long-range hikers. The idea of carrying a gun for protection, for instance, isn't generally seen as necessary.
  • The questions: Was enough done to stop Jordan once troubling reports emerged? “I’m sure there will be lessons learned and other takeaways,” an ATC official tells the Roanoke Times. “A lot of things were done right and done well. It’s early in the process right now.” The questions might apply to police, too: Jordan had been arrested in Tennessee after complaints, but he was released on probation on marijuana and false-identity charges.
  • Famous case: While killings on the trail are rare, ABC News notes that a famous double-homicide in 1981 was turned into the book Murder on the Appalachian Trail by Jess Carr.
(Read more Appalachian Trail stories.)

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