appalachian trail attacker
Abingdon Regional Jail

Man With Machete Attacks Hikers on Appalachian Trail

He told them he would "pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death."

On Friday night, May 10, 2019, four hikers found themselves at the center of a real-life horror film in southwestern Virginia when a strange man with a dog approached their tent with a deranged demeanor and a 20-inch machete. It ended with a deadly attack.

James Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, has been charged with murder and assault with intent to murder after killing one and leaving another injured with severe stab wounds.

According to the an affidavit obtained by the Roanoke Times, FBI Special Agent Micah Childers said Jordan was singing and playing guitar, while "acting disturbed and unstable."

People along this part of the Appalachian Trail—a stretch between Smyth and Wythe counties—know the Massachusetts man as "Sovereign," which by definition means "supreme ruler."

The four hikers quickly recognized Jordan from social media posts about a prior incident in Unicoi County, Tennessee, during which he threatened another a group of hikers. He would only be arrested on misdemeanor charges, however, as none of the previous hikers would press assault charges. He was charged with possession of marijuana and criminal impersonation. Then, after being fined and placed on probation, he was released.

Upon recognizing Jordan, the most recent group of hikers kept moving, crossing into Wythe and ultimately setting up camp in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.

Jordan then began harassing the group, making noises and threatening to set their tents on fire, so the group tried to leave.

The accused pulled out a large knife, after which point Jordan started chasing two of the hikers. Once the two escaped, Jordan came back to the camp and began arguing with a male hiker, then started stabbing his upper body.

The fourth hiker, a female, ran once she saw her only other ally fall. Jordan eventually caught up to her, so she put her hands up in an attempt to surrender, only to receive a series of stab wounds herself.

After falling to the ground, she immediately tried to play dead until Jordan went looking for his dog. Then she bolted, continuing south down the trail until running into two more hikers, who led her six miles into Smyth County, where she would finally call for help.

The 911 dispatch center had received two calls that night, the first of which was likely from the first two hikers who escaped, and then a second from the female hiker who was attacked and escaped.

Authorities arrived at the camp at 6:14 a.m. where they found Jordan with blood on his clothes, and took him him into custody. They also found the male victim, who they pronounced dead upon arrival.

The three survivors all identified Jordan as their attacker.

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

Jordan had a court appearance in the U.S. District Court in Abingdon Monday, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent ordered he undergo psychiatric evaluations by Aug. 1.

Wythe County Sheriff Keith Dunagan called the incident "isolated," but officials are still searching the trail just in case there are other victims.