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Police seeking man who spat at hikers in Ashburnham who were not wearing masks, claiming he had COVID-19

The two women stopped at Hudson’s Overlook on the Midstate Trail in Ashburnham, where one can sometimes see the Boston skyline some 60 miles away. But their hike on a cloudy day likely will be more memorable for their encounter with a bearded man in his 60s who was furious they were not wearing masks.

“Selfish!” he told them as he walked past while accompanied by a woman. “Irresponsible!”

Hiker spits on women after claiming to have COVID-19
Ashburnham police have released a video of a man claiming to have COVID-19 and then spitting on women for not wearing masks while hiking. (Courtesy of Ashburnham police)

The man walked past the women — one of whom said she did not intend to wear a mask while outdoors — and was about to descend the other side of the clearing when he abruptly turned around and strode angrily back toward the women, who were in their 20s.

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“OK, I have COVID,” he said as he spat twice in their direction in fast succession.

“I have COVID. I have been tested positive,” he said as he spat at them a third time.

“Are you OK?” one of the women calmly asked the man.

“No, and you won’t be soon‚’’ he replied as he spat at them a fourth time.

As he walked away to rejoin his hiking partner who had been urging him to stop, the man said, “the arrogance.”

The women reported the incident to the Ashburnham police who said Monday they are continuing to search for the identity of the man in the blue coat captured on cellphone video in the Nov. 15 incident. Detective Robert Siano said the man, once identified, could face a criminal charge of making a false threat from a biological agent or a charge of simple assault.

“We’ve got a lot of people calling and giving us names, but nothing really panning out. I don’t really have any solid suspect at this time,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “A lot of people are claiming they have seen him on other hiking trails in our area. . . . The photos and videos are pretty clear. I am thinking we should have some really solid leads by the end of the week.”

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Since the encounter, Siano said he has asked neighboring police departments with hiking trails in their communities to make inquiries with residents and hikers they encounter.

“To some of these hikers, it appears that this couple are regular hikers on the trail system,” he said. “We are diligently following up on every lead we are getting.”

Siano said he has not released the names of the women out of concern for their personal safety because of the antagonism around the issue of wearing masks as part of public health protocols amid the pandemic.

“There are obviously some negative comments coming toward them that we’ve seen even on our own Facebook page [like] ‘They weren’t wearing masks they got what they deserved,’ which we knew was going to occur,” he said. “We haven’t provided their names.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Siano at 978-827-4413 or via his e-mail: RSiano@ashburnham-ma.gov.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.