The man who allegedly attacked hikers on the Appalachian Trail with a knife was active on social media for several years, sharing videos of himself strumming a guitar and singing, pictures of himself smiling and partying with friends in the woods, and images of his beloved dog, Felicia.
“Any one wanna get breakfast my treat,” he wrote on Facebook on May 9, 2012. In a post from June 5, 2013, he asked: “any one wanna go on a nature walk?”
But in the weeks leading up to the deadly attack last Friday in Virginia, James L. Jordan’s Facebook posts took a darker turn.
“If you ask for my opinion, he was a mentally ill, unstable man, with a lot of emotional issues, who should’ve been medicated, but chose not to be,” one of Jordan’s close friends wrote in a message to the Globe.
A Facebook account connected to Jordan features several disturbing posts, including one from April 17 in which he appeared to be recruiting people to join his “sovereign cartel.”
He said he was “looking for crew” and “shuting down folkss that desevere it [all sic].”
Five days later, Jordan was arrested after police received complaints that he’d been threatening hikers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Sheriff Mike Hensley of Unicoi County, Tenn., said the authorities could not press more serious charges against Jordan because the hikers who were threatened did not want to leave the trail and go to court.
Jordan, who grew up in Yarmouth, Mass., and in Vermont, was released on probation on April 29 and ordered by a judge to stay away from the trail. But that didn’t keep him away.
On May 7, Jordan wrote a Facebook post that appeared to be stream-of-consciousness rambling. The 159-word posting contained more troubling phrases like “I’m the captain of the hit squad” and “I’m the one leader of the get them squad.”
On May 10, Jordan allegedly menaced four hikers he encountered on the trail in Virginia. Later that night, he allegedly stabbed and killed one of the hikers, 43-year-old Ronald S. Sanchez Jr., and severely wounded another.
A man who described himself as a Facebook friend of Jordan’s but only an acquaintance in real life said the posts raised red flags. “Some of his last posts were quite grim,” the friend said in an interview conducted over Facebook Messenger.
The man, who did not want his name published, wrote that he met Jordan two years ago in Florida, when they both attended a “Rainbow Gathering,” an informal event at which fellow “traveling folk” congregate in the woods.
“James was full of smiles and seemed to be very helpful,” said the man. “Helped with setting up a camp and cooking food. . . . He loved playing music and he loved his dog Felicia very much. There wasn’t much off about him then, and besides the constant jamming of the same song, he seemed to be an alright guy.”
The acquaintance didn’t see Jordan again until February of this year. Once again they were in Ocala, Fla., but this time, he said, Jordan seemed a bit “off.”
“He wasn’t violent, in my presence at least. Strange, yes — but not violent,” he wrote. “Many traveling folk just chalked it up as he may be under the influence or partying too hard.”
Jordan was usually by himself. His acquaintance wonders whether things would have played out differently if Jordan hadn’t been alone on the trail: Maybe he would not have attacked the hikers. Maybe someone could have stopped him. He also wonders what would have happened if the police held him in custody longer.
Jordan’s close friend shared their memories in a separate Facebook interview. This friend recalled meeting Jordan for the first time at a Rainbow Gathering in the winter of 2017 and 2018.
“He came across as an intelligent man, who was a bit distant,” the friend wrote.
The friend wrote that they had seen Jordan become aggressive a couple of times. In January 2018, he got into an argument with a person nicknamed “Squid,” which quickly escalated and became physical.
“James confronted Squid at a fire, then out of nowhere attacked him, throwing him into the fire,” the friend recalled. Squid suffered burns to the face, neck, arms, and legs.
“I had to subdue James with some other friends of mine, the whole time, he was screaming and ranting in a Bostonian/New England accent,” the friend wrote. “He had never had an accent before as long as I’d known him, but he did when he got angry. His rants never really made sense either, they just spiralled into nonsense until we could calm him down.”
When the friend saw Jordan this winter, Jordan was “much quieter, and much more distant, and more ready to be in arguments.”
On May 7, the friend received a Facebook message from Jordan, extending an invitation to join him on the Appalachian Trail.
“I had already seen his [May 7] rant on Facebook, but it didn’t really make any sense to me at all, just more babbling,” the friend wrote. “And his messages didn’t make sense either, so I kind of figured he was high and messaging people being weird.”
The friend ultimately declined Jordan’s invitation to go to the Appalachian Trail.
A few days later, Jordan allegedly launched his fatal attack.