Slain Hiker Identified, Details Emerge About Appalachian Trail Attack

43-year-old Ronald Sanchez was stabbed to death in the early-morning hours of Saturday, May 11th. The accused is 30-year-old James Jordan. Jordan is currently facing charges of murder and assault with intent to murder in a Virginia federal court. Ronald “Stronghold” Sanchez was identified by federal authorities Tuesday, May 14th.

Ronald Sanchez in an undated photo shared via Facebook

According to an FBI affidavit filed on Monday, Jordan approached a group of Appalachian Trail hikers on May 10th, playing his guitar, singing, and acting unstable.

On the evening of May 10th, the group of hikers set up camp further along the trail in Wyeth County, where Jordan appeared around 1am. He addressed the hikers through their tents, threatening to pour gasoline on their tents and set them on fire. As the four hikers decided to pack and leave the site, Jordan approached them, wielding a knife.

Two hikers fled the site northbound on the trail, placing a 911 call at 2:30am. After giving chase, Jordan then returned to the site and confronted the remaining two hikers, Sanchez and an as-yet identified female hiker. After a verbal confrontation, Jordan began stabbing Sanchez, who fell to the ground. The female hiker fled the scene, pursued by Jordan who caught up to her and began stabbing her. The female hiker fell to the ground and played dead, at which point Jordan left the scene. The female hiker continued down the trail, finding help with a pair of hikers who assisted her six miles to Smyth County. They placed a 911 call at 3:12am reporting the attack.

Law enforcement arrived at the scene of the attack a little after 6am on May 11th, locating Sanchez’s body as well as a large knife in close proximity. They then located Jordan near the scene. The full affidavit can be found here.

Jordan had been previously detained after causing disturbances and threatening hikers further south on the Appalachian Trail, with reports made to local law enforcement in Unicoi County, Tennessee in mid-April. On April 22nd, Jordan caused a disturbance at a trail crossing. He was taken into custody on drug and fake ID charges. Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley has stated that as no hikers pressed charges against Jordan, the department was unable to keep him in custody. Jordan pled guilty to the drug and fake ID charges and was ordered to stay off the trail.

Our initial coverage can be found here:

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Comments 47

  • Michelle DeGrange : May 15th

    My 21-year-old son has been out on the trail two weeks. Hard not to touched by this. Mr. Sanchez looks like a great guy. His smile radiates positivity! I know it’s not much comfort, but his friends, family and the surviving victim are very much in our thoughts. Our hearts go out to them.

    Reply
  • Oldman : May 15th

    Imagine for a moment the first/original group of hikers that Jordon had accosted didn’t refuse to stay and testify but did testify in court as asked! No, couldn’t bother to do that, as then their hike would have been delayed. Can’t have that! Probably would have saved a life huh? I hope they are reminded of that ever step they take on the AT and for the rest of their miserable lives. Because of their irresponsible actions, I’ve lost a close friend and “battle buddy,” I served with overseas. Rest In Peace Ron!

    Reply
    • YOUNGMAN : May 15th

      You should think about whom you’re targeting with your negative emotions and whether they might be misplaced.

      Reply
      • Oldman : May 15th

        I’m targeting those fine civic minded citizen thru hikers who refused to press charges because they might have been called to testify. Pressing those charges would have kept Jordon in jail thus saving the life of Ron and the injuries to the female hiker. Can’t get around that! And no my emotions aren’t misplaced!!

        Reply
        • Sebastien : May 20th

          I think they are misplaced. The hikers are not responsible of anything. They are victims like your friend. If you want to blame someone other than the murdered then blame the authorities, the police, the state, blame de medical institutions, blame society, blame God or even blame yourself for letting him go if you really need to blame innocent people.
          But please be smart and don’t blame other victims.
          “doing that would have … What if…” NO. That’s not fair. That’s not even making any sense. You just don’t know.
          And who are you to judge those people Are you sure you would have acted differently than those hikers? Especially if the disturbance was minor. People don’t know the future. If pressing charge meant loosing money and time I am sure I would have kept hiking. You don’t jeopardize your once in a life hike to press charges on some random punk who act erratically on the trail. 99% hikers would have kept hiking and you can’t blame them for that.
          Mr. Sanchez looks like he was a great guy. Rest in peace.

          Reply
      • Citizen : May 15th

        Well if Oldman did not bring it up someone else would have. I would hope this is a question that a number of people have. The larger point is, is there a greater duty to protect society by staying to press charges that comes above the completion of a recreational activity. Unless the local authorities wanted the initial case to go away, it would seem to me that a case like this could be scheduled such that no more than a few days time would be required for a return for a simple trial of a couple of days? Negative emotions? Sounds more like righteous anger. It is on target unless the local authorities wanted the case to go away. So far the reports I have read do not suggest that.

        I also can’t help but wonder if the authorities could have been more aggressive with release conditions like requiring the return to the care of previous doctors, or medication order, or the appointment of a mental health guardian, especially for someone who was allegedly waving a large knife that the police are reported to have confiscated, appeared incoherent and had possession of a controlled substance.

        Reply
      • SpringerFever : May 15th

        On the trail it’s really not in one’s nature to get others in trouble. I can’t say I would have pressed charges because I wasn’t there, but I like to have faith in people and second chances so most likely I wouldn’t have. If you would have maybe that’s why you’re not out there hiking the AT.

        That being said, I’m terribly sorry you lost a friend. I can’t imagine the pain you are feeling, but maybe refrain from venting such negative feelings on an otherwise positive site…but since we’re already there :😁

        The ugly truth of the matter is we’re all going to die…am I prepared for that? Are you? We never are, right? Well, it looks like and I sure hope that Ron was as prepared as one could be. If I was going to die I couldn’t think of a happier place than the AT though.

        RIP Ronald Sanchez

        Reply
        • Oldtimer : May 15th

          Springerfever, thanks for your input, although I disagree respectfully about venting in this medium. I believe it’s quite appropriate based on these horrible events. All life isn’t butterflies, fairies, and sugarplums. If you threaten me with a weapon out on the trail I’m pressing charges plain and simple, you don’t get a second chance. BTW I do hike the AT in Pa, NJ, and Maryland as I live just 15 miles from a AT access point. Never made the thru hike but I’ve put thousands of miles on my dogs while in Colorado hiking up and down most of the 14,000 foot mountain peaks and trails on the Continental Divide.
          Your philosophy about death is interesting but a little screwed up. Agreed we’re all going to pass but having been in combat and knowing I could get killed didn’t make me prepared to die, on the contrary I did everything I could to protect myself. Life is to precious, no death, no mater where it occurs is a good thing. I doubt any of us are prepared for such a traumatic ending to our life. There is no happy place to die that I could think of especially being stabbed to death, and certainly not on the AT.

          Reply
        • Citizen : May 16th

          This is more than justlooking the other way at frat boy antics. This is looking the other way at a violent felony. I am a live and let live kind of a guy but there was a clear and unambiguous duty here. Yes horror of horrors I used the alien, strange and forgotten word “duty.”

          He got himself in trouble. Others did not “get him in trouble.”

          Reply
          • TruckerStu : May 17th

            There are a lot of naive liberals on the trail..

            Reply
            • Sebastien : May 20th

              True. Great people. Unfortunately there are also a few vile conservatives like “Sovereign”.

              Reply
          • prettypixels : May 18th

            It’s easy to sit back and judge; what exactly would they have pressed charges on him for? Did he physically attack them or just act crazy and scary? In addition in many jurisdictions, a victim doesn’t need to press charges for the POLICE to press charges, which is how it should be everywhere. I am sure no one thought this man would actually kill anyone, including the cops who let him go. Blaming the initial victims is ridiculous.

            As is ranting about “naive liberals” but what else would I expect from republicans who live to judge others.

            Reply
            • Citizen : May 19th

              This should not be a partisan issue. Any person of any political party should see an over riding duty to keep the community safe in this instance.
              The police did not see the original assault and therefore required witnesses to press charges. Simple Civic duty that should cut across party lines. What’s to “judge” here? Pretty clear cut. Any required court appearance s could have been scheduled. County would have paid travel etc. A vet that dodged lead overseas was unnecessarily killed in his own country because folks could not be troubled over a couple of days time. Full stop.

              Reply
            • Wireman134 : May 20th

              Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Some say he freed the slaves. Politic has nothing to do with Civic Duty.

              Reply
              • Sebastien : May 20th

                100% certain he wouldn’t be a republican now.

  • Harry Dowdall : May 15th

    The question is why did no hiker press charges. This is why we must be able to carry a firearm on trail.

    Reply
  • Robert : May 15th

    I am just curious. Is this a mental case? or do we know why the subject attack the hikers?

    Reply
    • TruckerStu : May 17th

      Politics.. Naive liberals .

      Reply
    • SweetPee, '97 thruhiker : May 17th

      It sounds likely that the murderer has mental health issues likely mixed with drug use issues. From the various stories written so far, it also sounds like his behavior was erratic and unstable — sounds like the victims did nothing to provoke him (as they were all sleeping at 1am in this horrible last attach) but that he was often “looking for a fight” or to threaten, scare, and hurt someone.
      Another commenter asked why did some run away and others not run — it was dark and middle of the night, presumably they were scared, and it was either run or fight (which who wants to fight a crazed person with a big knife in the dark).
      So very sorry for the victims and their loved ones. this makes me sad for so many reasons.

      Reply
    • Papa Rel : May 18th

      It does appear so. People don’t attack people with no provocation typically.

      Reply
  • Paul Comstock : May 15th

    If a thru-hiker was to be a witness in a civil lawsuit in federal court, I can tell you what would happen. They would give a deposition on video, examined and cross-examined — scheduled at their convenience, with no further inconvenience to them. This courtesy was extended to highly paid professional witnesses when I sat on a federal jury in such a trial 20+ years ago. Based on what I read, this can be done in criminal proceedings. So the legal system and prosecutor in Unicoi County can’t manage such a thing?

    Reply
    • Citizen : May 16th

      Paul Comstock. Your point is correct. This is something that could have been scheduled. 1 day travel each way, 1-2 days at trial. Travel expenses paid by the county. Hardly a major life disruption to save another person’s life. In criminal as opposed to civil cases there is a constitutional right to “confront your a accusers,” so it would likely mean a personal appearance.

      Reply
  • Goldie jenkins : May 16th

    I made calls to Haywood County law enforcement in late April as Jordan was making his way back to the Trail through Haywood County . I had saw a news article posted about him from Mitchell County and called their law enforcement and then alerted Haywood County that he was on 209 heading back to the Trail at Max Patch.

    Reply
  • Maria Martinez : May 16th

    Agree with oldman. It was my first thought when I read about this incident. This tragedy could’ve been prevented had charges been pressed originally. This live and let live attitude has led to death. Mr. Sanchez served his country to then lose his life on the AT.

    Reply
    • Sebastien : May 20th

      Agree. This tragedy could’ve been prevented had the lady who gave him a ride a few hours before the tragedy had not brought him back to the trail.

      Reply
  • Lance Bozman : May 16th

    Your in the forest. Force protection is necessary at all times. Weather against a mad man, or nature. Defend yourself with violent intent, the moment your instincts call for it. Let the authorities ask questions later.

    Reply
    • John M : May 16th

      Lance, there is something missing from all accounts of what took place in both NC and the VA attacks….no one resisted with violent intent, they ran. No one even resisted with passive intent by testifying. Jordan is not a large and imposing figure, he stands 5’10” and threatened fairly physically fit individuals, most having in their possession two substantial weapons known as trekking poles. I guess most are far more willing to check out of this world at the hands of another than I am.

      Reply
      • Radar : May 16th

        My husband and I were wondering the same thing. Why didn’t anyone take this guy down? Yes trekking poles, rocks, rope, anything. But that’s why we carry.

        Reply
      • RVATOM : May 17th

        Totally agree. Of course it is SOOO easy to Monday morning quarterback this event, but I would love to think 4 people would have been able to jump this loser, tie him up with all the paracord they are carrying, and call 911. The threat to burn certainly ignited their Fight or Flight sense. I wonder why 2 choose to stay vs run with the other 2. And how the hell did they pack up their things and then leave…..sounds like a lot of time, no? Ugh, this case disturbs me on so many levels.

        Reply
      • SweetPee, '97 thruhiker : May 17th

        It was dark and middle of the night. He had a big knife. there was no time to plan as a group. all of this. and to those who think guns are the solution — in the dark? could just as easily kill an innocent person as the one who is attacking. plus, you then end up the murderer. so many problems with this idea. I sure hope this doesn’t lead to more guns out on the trail.

        Reply
        • prettypixels : May 18th

          Well said; a gun in the dark is just as likely to kill an innocent bystander.

          This is a really terrifying and awful situation. My heart is broken both for the victims and their friends and families.

          Imagine if our country actually cared about things like mental health care.

          Reply
        • Ann : May 20th

          You better keep your unwanted comments about “guns” to yourself, “sweetpee”, since you’re clearly clueless about the subject. Don’t tell others how to live their life. If you have submissive, delusional victim mentality: it’s your problem, don’t bring it on others.

          Reply
  • Ruth Morley : May 17th

    Let’s stop blaming everyone else but Jordan. The hikers were attacked during the night, caught totally off guard. They had no time to work together as a group. I’d run too. And who’s to say that the deceased didn’t put up a struggle? A machete used with the element of surprise behind it wins every time.

    Let’s give this debate a rest and mourn the slain and injured and mentally ill and not blame others who only had a brief encounter with Jordan. I met a crazy one on the trail last year, informed the police immediately of my location, and no more came if it.

    Let’s be nice.

    Reply
    • Ramdino Roaming the Trails : May 19th

      Could not agree more Ruth. Lets be kind to one another in all that we do and think about others before we speak and act.

      Reply
  • Jeff A : May 17th

    This is not the first murder on the AT – the current total is approximately 14. But if you compare hiking the Appalachian Trail with walking in and out of your local grocery store, the relative risk is far greater in your local parking lot, or anywhere else in your neighborhood, than hiking the AT. Given that, I hope that gun culture will not spill over onto the trail. That is not the culture of the trail, not necessary on our wilderness trails, and runs counter to what most outdoors people believe and how we live our lives. Guns on our wilderness trails will only lead to increased violence, just as they have in the rest of our society. If you need guns in your life, that’s up to you, its a free country. But please don’t bring that culture to the outdoor community, especially not the AT. If one reads the posts above, you realize that gun culture is much more than just carrying a gun. It involves anger, revenge, and other issues that most folks enjoying our wilderness trails are trying to avoid.

    BTW: There are many alternative to guns. Pepper spray, bear spray, even tasers can be carried, at least in some states, if you really need that level of security. I carry a small pepper spray, but I am getting ready to ditch even that. I hike in the eastern US where black bears are not a significant threat and even our two legged friends – by far the most dangerous species – are generally safe to cohabitate with. As long as they don’t start carrying guns.

    Reply
    • Papa Rel : May 18th

      When an aggressive bear comes to camp you don’t run from it, you have to be assertive and deal with it. None of us were there so there are things we don’t know about the conditions those poor hikers were facing other than a person intending intimidation and harm.

      Reply
    • Ann : May 20th

      Keep your nonsense views on guns to yourself. Stay in your city where you live: you won’t be telling others what to carry on AR.

      Reply
    • Ann : May 20th

      I doubt you know much about outdoors (or about freedom), pal….You’re nobody to speak for “outdoor community”, keep hiking and mind your own business. I’ll bring what I want with me and dare some idiot tell me how to live my life or hike.

      Reply
  • Arthur Lloyd : May 17th

    Sure would like to see a story about personal safety on the AT with advice about where to find communication centers, availability of wi-fi and cell phone service, and devices (horns, whistles) to signal for help and defensive options such as pepper spray.

    Reply
    • Maggie Slepian : May 17th

      Hi Arthur- we have a writer working on that right now. Excellent suggestion.

      Reply
  • Michael Gore : May 18th

    I carry every single time on the trail, always have… 20yrs and counting

    Reply
  • ramdino : May 19th

    I hate that you included the part that other hikers did not press charges and that’s why he got off with such a light sentence.” while it may be correct, and I hope you did your research and found it to be true and not just copied it from other media outlets that often times get it wrong, that just feeds the non hiker community crowd rhetoric that hikers are partially to be blamed for this tragedy because they would not do their civic duty and stay around for who knows how long to go to court. As a former thru hiker yourself along with Zak and Chaunce I would have thought you would be a little more sensitive than that. The entire hiking community has been devastated by these events and I am sure that those who did not stay around would have done so had they even thought that this would occur, or that the authorities would not handled the situation. Most people do not understand how the justice system works that a person cannot be convicted without a witness. Most think that a simple statement to police is enough. Not all news needs to be reported. Your story would have been good enough without that part. I hope in the future you will do your moral duty and think of those who are affected or even may be effected before reporting and adding to the frenzy. All the blame, ALL THE BLAME is because of Jordan, Full stop.

    Reply
    • Citizen : May 19th

      The sheriff was quoted as saying it. I am sure the sheriff was frustrated and quite rightly so. It would never occur to me to write a letter to an editor telling them not to publish something like this. This is the crux issue in this case like it or not. The editors were quite responsible to not name the hikers that did not press charges at this point, though I suspect that will become a matter of public record after further court proceedings. It seems to me that the editors here did what any other publication would have done. There is a word for what you are advocating. It is called…. wait for it……. CENSORSHIP! No one has named the hikers. Don’t act like they have. In a free country we are free to have an opinion as to what should or should not have been done here. It is called debate. I think we have a cultural and societal failure here and we can’t fix it if we can not talk about it.

      If you want to go back to first principles, judges have made the standards of involuntary committal impossibly high. Jordan is just the latest example of untold thousands of such cases inflicted on us by an unaccountable judiciary. If Jordan is not competent, then it is most certainly not his fault full stop. The culpability secondarily rests with each and every one of us who has not insisted on changes to the mental health system and proximately with the hikers who could not spare a couple of days to press charges. Although we can not know for sure, had charges been pressed it is possible that the mental health system would have been forced to address him and no hiker would have been killed and another nearly killed.

      I will bet the next story that comes out is that Jordan’s family begged to have Jordan committed. But no one could do anything……. Revolving door etc. That is almost always the case. “His father and I begged to have him admitted……….” “He has been in and out of jail and hospitals and no one would do anything……” “He has been off his medicine and we could not do anything with him…….” “He turned violent and we had to kick him out of the house for our own safety…..” “There were no psychiatric beds available……….” “We had to triage the bed shortage for only the most violent……”

      Wait for it.

      Reply
    • Citizen : May 19th

      Who here is not a hiker? I think you are creating a straw man argument. I clearly said that things like this are scheduled. Although I can not say in this particular case, similar cases that I am familiar with had travel expenses paid by the county, a day to travel each way, and a couple of days at trial. That is it. 4-5 days max. Not 4-5 weeks like some here are acting like. Not weeks sitting around cooling their heels. I also clearly said in another post above that there is a constitutional right to confront your accuser, so a personal appearance would be needed. Neither I nor anyone else here said a simple statement would suffice. Perhaps if the witnesses were willing, the defense might have chosen not to go to trial and pled. Then there would not have been any time cost at all. Sorry I am not seeing a frenzy here. This case will likely vanish down the memory hole with no lessons learned and no reforms, unfortunately. It is not getting enough attention.

      Reply
      • Shepard : May 25th

        A truly sad and tragic murder. Rare but not the first nor will it be the last. Remember you are responsible for your own rescue no matter if it’s from a fall, cold, lighting, bugs ,snakes, or persons who mean to do you harm. Plan accordingly and accept the reality of where you have chosen to go. The pro’s out way the con’s immensely. The hiker community is there to help and professional help will get there but it’s hours away not minutes as most of us have become accustomed to.
        My understanding that when confronted Mr. Sanchez stayed and faced the mentally ill male armed with a large knife and tried to talk with him and protect his friend. Mr. Sanchez’s courageous actions should be recognized and remembered.

        Reply
  • Bill MacLeish : Jun 11th

    My nobo son stopped short of that tragic campsite for trail magic at Settler’s Museum and fortunately choose to stay there for the night.
    We only know what has been put out by the media and the FBI affidavit that documented this incident. I think there is a lot to be learned from this tragic incident.
    1) It took law enforcement several hours to arrive at the crime scene (ref. FBI affidavit). Understandable, hiking in that terrain is 2 mph for fit hikers.
    2) Mentally disturbed Sovereign was hiking with a service dog, a pit-bull. If anyone physically attacked Sovereign, would the pit-bull defend him? What kind of service
    was this pit-bull trained to do for Sovereign? I think this detail came from the media, so maybe it is fake news. Still, would like to know the facts about the dog.
    3) When the first couple ran away from the campsite with Sovereign in pursuit, why didn’t the second couple immediately flee in the opposite direction? The fleeing couple provided a momentary distraction opportunity for the second couple to flee.
    **********Corrective Action we have taken*******
    If under human threat, forget the gear, like drop your pack or abandon your tent and gear. Flee with your trekking poles-smart phone-SOS device if you have one. My son has a tri-plex zpacks tent, so just get out of tent, jerk one or both poles out and run. If under immediate attack just run at full sprint. If encountering unstable behavior or evidence of sketchy activity, move on to the next shelter of stealth camp far away from that individual, or pretend to make a water run or grab your shit sheets and pretend to head off to do your business… when out of sight, run far away, when safe 911/SOS alert law enforcement. Keep the Garmin Mini on during sleep. The Garmin Mini reduces battery usage by suspending tracking function after 30 minutes of no movement, that way SOS can be triggered quicker which could be useful if tenting near a trail head or in town where law enforcement can get there in a few minutes. We added quick txt messages on the Garmin Mini, so that messages could be sent via the Garmin Mini, like ‘Under human threat/attack, send help! Rattle snake bite, send help! if his iPhone can’t 911 to a tower. Though he as an FID card, a firearm is too heavy for a 2200 mile thru-hike, and too costly to carry legally in all 14 States. He has a two inch Swiss army knife and has feels getting anything bigger is not necessary. This incident though tragic, should be used by hikers to dial-in some safety strategies.

    Reply
  • Robert W Green : Sep 5th

    I dunno . . . just sitting here and thinking what a person might be able to do in such a situation. He definitely had the advantage by having a reach out weapon (large knife), startling them in the middle of the night and having a dog that’s stronger than most humans with very large teeth. A firearm would have definitely trumped both of those threats definitively. The sound of a shell being chambered and a red dot on his chest would probably have been enough to make him mind his manners.

    Non-lethal / legal: A 1200 lumen flashlight could have blinded him for a few moments but would have no effect on the dog. High grade pepper spray would have disabled him long enough to disarm him and tie him up. Fox 5.3 pepper spray used by law enforcement is some nasty stuff that would work extremely well on the attacker and the dog.

    Tasers work well but unless you had the type that would fire out the projectiles it would require you to step into the danger zone where you could be stabbed or lose your hand. Not sure if those are legal in all states. I suppose you could take your katana if you knew how to use it. The super flashlight and the Fox 5.3 pepper spray would probably be my pick (unless I could find something stronger). I’ve never done the trail (yet) so curious to find out what the experienced ones use for self protection.

    Reply

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