Survivor of Appalachian Trail Machete Attack Played Dead to Escape: Feds

By (Victoria Albert)
Tedd A. Prater/Alamy

A woman who survived the fatal machete attack on the Appalachian Trail on Saturday played dead to escape after being stabbed multiple times, federal authorities said Monday.

James L. Jordan, a 30-year-old from West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was formally charged Monday with one count of murder and one count of assault with attempt to commit murder in connection with the horrific attack, which left one person dead and took place on an isolated stretch of the 2,190-mile hiking trail in Virginia.

At his Monday hearing in Abingdon, Virginia, Judge Pamela M. Sargent ordered Jordan to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

“We have not spoken to Jordan since their mother died in March but the news is shocking,” Megan Newsome, the fiancée of Jordan’s brother Dustin, told The Daily Beast. Newsome said that Jordan had most recently been living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The ordeal began on Friday, when the woman and three other hikers encountered Jordan on the trail in Wythe County, Virginia. They recognized him the moment they saw him: AT video bloggers had spent weeks discussing the man who was arrested in late April and set free after threatening hikers in Unicoi County, Tennessee, with a machete.

Jordan, who calls himself “Sovereign,” was “acting disturbed” when he approached the group, according to a federal complaint filed in the Western District of Virginia.

“When Jordan approached the four hikers he was acting disturbed and unstable, and was playing his guitar and singing,” the complaint states.

The encounter ended quickly—but after the hikers made camp later that night in an isolated section of the trail, Jordan returned, authorities said. “Jordan spoke to the hikers through their tents,” the complaint alleges, “and threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death.”

The group decided to flee the campsite, fearing for their lives. But Jordan quickly returned, this time brandishing a knife, the complaint alleges. Two of the hikers fled, and Jordan took off after them. But after they escaped, he returned to the site and attacked the other two hikers, identified as Victim #1 and Victim #2 in the complaint.

He started arguing with the male hiker, the complaint alleges, before stabbing him in the upper part of his body. When her companion fell to the ground, Victim #2 took off running—but she quickly tired, and Jordan caught up.

She raised her arms in surrender, but Jordan didn’t relent, the complaint says. He stabbed her multiple times, before she “fell to the ground and played dead,” authorities said. After Jordan left to find his dog, she staggered towards Smyth County, where she met another male and female hiker who helped her hike the remaining six miles to safety.

The following morning, authorities returned to the site of the attack. At about 6:15 a.m., the complaint states, officers took Jordan into custody, his clothes bloody. He has since been charged with one count of murder and one count of assault with attempt to commit murder.

The charges come less than a month after he first raised alarm. In late April, Sheriff Mike Hensley in Unicoi County, Tennessee, started receiving calls from panicked hikers. Some complained of a man who chased them out of shelters with a shovel, Hensley told The Daily Beast. Others said he brandished a long knife and demanded a password before he’d let them continue on the trail.

On April 21, Hensley warned hikers on Facebook of the erratic man who “brandished a knife and machete and said it was going to be a bad day for hikers.”

When deputies eventually found him near a food and water station, he was “intoxicated” and gave officers a fake name, Hensley said, adding that officials found marijuana and drug paraphernalia on him.

But the hikers, who wanted to keep moving on the trail instead of appearing in local court, declined to press more serious charges. As a result, Hensley said, “the only thing I could do was hold him on the charges that we had.”

After Jordan pleaded guilty and paid a fine, he was freed.

“I wish the hikers here would’ve pressed charges,” Hensley said. “If they’d pressed charges, there’s a good chance he could have been in jail.”

“I did all I could to get him off the trail,” he added.

—Pilar Melendez contributed reporting.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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