Hiker Killed In Attack On The AT

Man Arrested in Connection With Apparent Machete Attack on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia

A murder has happened on the Appalachian Trail.

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The area of the AT that passes through the Mount Rogers National Scenic Area — including Grayson Highlands State Park — is well known to us.

News reports are saying that a pair of hikers were attacked by a man wielding a large knife or Machete while hiking the AT in the backwoods of Virginia. One of the two was killed; the other escaped with injuries. The attacker is under arrest.

The attackers name was given as James Louis Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. He was arrested by Wythe County Sheriff’s Deputies responding to an SOS signal sent from a victim’s mobile phone. A 20-inch blade was recovered at the scene.

The surviving hiker, a woman, was forced to play dead in order to escape, but managed to flee. The other was not so lucky. The names of the victims have not been released as of this writing.

The incident occurred just north of Virginia’s Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Sylvia and Brian have hiked in this area before.

It had not been the first time the man – who went by the alias of “Sovereign” — had been in trouble. He had been arrested by Tennessee authorities in April after a string of trail-related incidents in that area, but was apparently let go because victims were unwilling to press charges.

The Washington Post reported that at least one hiker had told them the man was mentally ill and suffering from some sort of paranoid delusions.

Hikers were actually well aware of the man and his violent behavior from social media. The very well-known blog named The Trek – which we subscribe to – had documented reports of the man for weeks. Hikers knew to avoid him, but the trail only goes two directions, so avoiding him was not always possible. The AT community protects and cares for itself – when and if it can.

Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this senseless tragedy.

This brought us around to the question – how safe is hiking the AT, and how safe is hiking in general? Sylvia actually posed this question to Brian after being told of the incident.

(Interestingly, we had just done a couple of posts on safety in the US National Parks as it relates to hikers. But we were talking mainly about accidents…weren’t really even thinking about homicides, they occur too rarely in the parks.)

Brian’s answer is as follows: There is no such thing as being entirely safe in the wild. But as far as murder and violent crime are concerned…the AT is MUCH safer than any comparable sized US city.

By comparable sized, we mean — the AT gets about three million visitors per year. If you think if the trail as one big community, 2000 miles long, then it has a ‘community’ population comparable to the very largest American Cities.

The last time the trail had a recorded homicide was 2011. We think it safe to say no major city anywhere can match that record.

Here’s some comparable data on homicides from FBI crime figures for some of the largest cities in the US. The numbers listed are for murders per 100,000 people…NOT the actual totals, which are much higher.

City                             Pop                  Murders per 100,00 people

Los Angeles, CA        4 million                                  7

Chicago, IL                2.7 million                              24

Las Vegas< NV          1. million                                13

New York, NY            8.6 million                               3

Philadelphia, PA       1.6 million                              21

Dallas, TX                   1.3 Million                              13

Houston, TX               2.3 Million                              12

Pheonix, AZ                1.6 million                             10

By comparison, The Appalachian Trail…

Approximate visitors per year along its entire length: 3 million

Total known homicides since 2011: One.

The trail shows as much safer than Washington DC, San Francisco, Brian’s birth city of Boston, or our own city of Raleigh NC. Raleigh recorded 26 murders in 2017 alone.

Now, these stats are somewhat misleading. We are comparing the permanent populations of cities to a corridor of rural land that has almost no real population on it. It would be more profitable to compare the AT to other places where large numbers of people purely visit, like beaches, concerts, sports venues or Amusement Parks. I’ll let somebody else take that one.

Nonetheless, the numbers are in Brian’s mind pretty clear. There is NO absolute safety in anything he can think of; but as far as violent crime is concerned, what happened on the trail this weekend is more the exception that proves the rule than anything…an event so rare as to be newsworthy.

We remain convinced that hiking the Appalachian Trail represents a far safer activity than driving on the freeway or walking down any city street, and the statistics bear this out.

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