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West Yarmouth man arrested in fatal Appalachian Trail attack in Virginia

James Jordan. Abingdon Regional Jail

A West Yarmouth man was arrested in Virginia Saturday after he allegedly fatally stabbed one person and severely injured another along the Appalachian Trail in Wythe County, Va., according to the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

James L. Jordan, 30, was charged with one count of murder and one count of assault with the intent to murder, according to a statement issued Sunday from the office of US Attorney Thomas T. Cullen.

Jordan was arrested early Saturday on a federal criminal complaint. Neither of the victims were immediately identified.

“I commend local law enforcement in Wythe and Smyth Counties for mobilizing successful rescue and tactical operations in this remote region,” Cullen said in a statement. “Thanks to their efforts, the suspect was safely apprehended and a seriously wounded victim received critical medical care.”


On Saturday, two hikers reported that a man with a machete was assaulting people on the trail, and a man and a woman were injured in the attacks, according to a Wythe County Sheriff’s Office statement that was issued that day. Sheriff officials went to the trail and arrested a man, who was not identified in the statement.

The US attorney’s statement on Sunday did not note the nature of the attacks, and officials from either agency could not be reached Sunday evening.

The trail runs through the western tip of Wythe County, which is in southwestern Virginia, officials said.

According to officials cited in The Washington Post, Jordan — who reportedly had a large knife and was accompanied by a dog — allegedly threatened a group of four hikers camped out late on Friday.

He pursued two of the hikers as they escaped north, but they were able to get away, and then contacted sheriff’s deputies in a nearby county to report the incident, according to the Post. The other two hikers — a male and a female — fled south, but were not able to elude Jordan.


Sheriff Keith Dunagan told the Post that the male victim triggered an SOS signal on his phone, which alerted authorities. The woman, who suffered severe injuries, was able to escape.

‘‘She pretended to be dead and when [Jordan] walked away after his dog, she took off running,’’ Dunagan told the paper.

Officials responding to the man’s SOS signal came across a group of walkers who described a knife-wielding man known as ‘‘Sovereign,’’ who roamed the trail with a dog, the Post reported. A dog strolled over to the group while they were talking, and authorities followed it to Jordan, who was taken into custody without incident.

Authorities later found a 20-inch knife along the trail nearby, and then the male victim, according to the Post.

Although the attack received media attention nationwide, such brazen violence in that area of the trail is not common, according to Brian B. King, a spokesman for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, an organization that works to manage and preserve the trail.

In a telephone interview Sunday, King said there have been seven homicide incidents, with nine victims, in the last 45 years — not including Saturday’s attack.

“It is extremely rare, given that 3 to 4 million people a year use the trail,” King said. “The trail is an extremely safe place but it is not absolutely safe.”


Each year, there are people who try to hike the whole trail, which spans from Georgia to Maine, King said. At this time of year, those people tend to be in the vicinity of the alleged attack, he said.

“There are a lot of hikers in that area right now,” he said. “These are people following their dreams and that is pretty sad.”

Following the attack, hikers have been mournful for the victims, and also feel personally assailed, King said.

“People are just sickened more than concerned,” he said. “People who hike the trail have fun . . . their community and something they care about was attacked.”

Jordan pleaded guilty in April to charges of drug possession and criminal impersonation in Unicoi County, Tenn., where he threatened hikers, according to the Post and other news outlets. He was reportedly sentenced to probation and ordered to pay fines before being released from custody.

After that incident, King said the Appalachian Trail Conservancy alerted its law enforcement partners about Jordan.

“He had a reputation on the trail,” he told the Globe.

It was not immediately clear Sunday evening whether Jordan had an attorney. He is expected to appear in federal court in Abingdon, Va., on Monday.

Alejandro Serrano can be reached at alejandro.serrano@globe.com.