Ronald Sanchez suffered from PTSD and major depression after years of military service, including three deployments in Iraq, but the 43-year-old Army veteran took to the outdoors to deal with the stress. It was during one of those outdoor activities when the Oklahoma man's life came to a tragic end, though: He was fatally stabbed early Saturday while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. "He was adventurous and he got out of his shell and we were so proud of that because for a while he was in darkness," Sanchez's sister tells CNN. "To survive those deployments in Iraq and to die like this is just devastating," adds Sanchez's former wife. James Jordan, 30, is charged with murdering Sanchez and assaulting a female hiker, who played dead in order to escape. Two other hikers in the group, a man and a woman, fled the attack.
It was more than just hiking that lifted Sanchez's spirits: "He was in a cycling group, he was showing horses, and on a dragon (boat racing) team, and these were all out of his comfort zone because he was a really shy guy," his ex-wife says. In October, Sanchez was mentioned in an Oklahoman newspaper article about veterans doing recreation therapy, and he recalled how he used to lock himself in a room, only leaving to buy food. Meanwhile, the local sheriff tells News On 6 he had arrested Jordan and tried to keep him locked up after reports last month of him threatening hikers on the trail, but no one was willing to testify in court: "They were on the trail walking and they didn't want to come back—they told my investigators that. ... I did everything that I could do. I did get this man off the trail. That's all I could do." (Jordan's own dog led police to him.)