The man killed in a machete attack on the Appalachian Trail has been identified as a 43-year-old Army vet from Oklahoma who hiked the popular route to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report.
Ronald Sanchez managed to trigger an SOS signal on his phone before dying, alerting police to his location near the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia’s Wythe County, officials said.
“He was adventurous and he got out of his shell and we were so proud of that because for a while he was in darkness,” his sister, Brenda Sanchez Loera, told CNN.
A female hiker who was wounded in the attack played dead and then trekked six miles to alert authorities of the rampage.
James Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was arrested on one count of murder and one count of assault with the intent to murder in connection with the attack.
Jordan, who is known as “Sovereign,” was accompanied by a dog as he had earlier threatened a group of four hikers Friday. Two of them managed to escape but the suspect caught up with the other two, Wythe County Sheriff Keith Dunagan said.
Sanchez’s sister and his ex-wife, Elizabeth Kordek, said the Army veteran suffered from PTSD as well as depression after his military service, which included stints in Iraq.
They told CNN that he also suffered back and knee injuries that made the outdoor activities he used as recreation therapy back home much tougher.
“He was in a cycling group, he was showing horses, and on a dragon (boat racing) team and these were all out of his comfort zone because he was a really shy guy,” Kordek said. “To survive those deployments in Iraq and to die like this is just devastating.”
The fatal encounter began late Friday, when Jordan “was acting disturbed and unstable, and was playing the guitar and singing,” according to an affidavit attached to the criminal complaint.
“Jordan spoke to the hikers through their tents and threatened to pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death,” the affidavit said.
The terrified group scrambled to pack and leave their camp as Jordan pulled out a knife and chased after two of the hikers, authorities said.
He then returned to the campsite and began arguing with one of the two remaining hikers, according to the affidavit. The woman fled after watching the assailant stab the male hiker, officials said.
When Jordan caught up with her, she turned to face him and raised her arms in surrender – but he began stabbing her and she fell to the ground and played dead, “at which point Jordan left to find his dog,” the affidavit said.
“We’re really wondering how those last moments were,” Kordek said of Sanchez’s encounter with the attacker. “He’s strong and he’s a fighter… He was a good person. He had a really good heart.”