Hiker Ronald Sanchez Jr. Identified As Victim In Fatal Machete Attack On Appalachian Trail
The Appalachian Trail stretches 2,190 miles from the red Georgia clay trail through the wooded trails of Maine. The people who quit their jobs and carry everything they need to sleep and survive outside for four to six months are called “thru-hikers” and they meet and create trail families along the way.
So when news broke that on Friday, May 10, one thru-hiker was murdered and another critically injured from an attack by a man wielding a machete, the community was rocked. Authorities just released the name of the victim as Ronald Sanchez Jr.
Ronald “Stronghold” Sanchez, Jr., 43, survived several deployments in Iraq and was using the Appalachian Trail as a form of outdoor therapy.
Sanchez returned from war with depression and PTSD. He was in a cycling group, a boat racing team and showed horses–all as a means of trying to get out of his comfort zone and treat his depression.
A Veteran Affairs’ doctor planned to track and report on Sanchez’ recovery along the AT.
Sanchez’s sister, Brenda Sanchez Loera, told CNN in a phone interview that “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.”
Massachusetts man James L. Jordan, 30, was arrested for murder and assault with intent to commit murder.
The court documents include witness reports from three surviving hikers who said Jordan was “disturbed and unstable, and was playing his guitar and singing.” Jordan began threatening the hikers, including Sanchez, telling them he would pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death. The group decided to relocate for fear of their lives and started packing up.
Jordan started threatening them with a knife and two of the hikers ran north to escape.
After Jordan gave up the chase, he returned to the campsite and started yelling at Sanchez and an unidentified female hiker. Sanchez and Jordan entered into a verbal altercation, at which point Sanchez made an emergency call from his cell phone.
That’s when Jordan started stabbing Sanchez repeatedly in the chest.
According to the unidentified female hiker’s witness testimony, when she saw Sanchez collapse to the ground, she started running. Jordan caught up to her and she raised her arms “as if to surrender,” and Jordan began stabbing her.
The second victim had to play dead to survive the attack.
After Jordan presumed her dead, he went back to the campsite, and the female hiker continued running down the trail where she met two hikers off the trail who had just set up camp. They escorted her six miles to a trailhead where they called 911. The hiker is recovering from her injuries at a medical center in Bristol, Tennessee.
Jordan gave himself the trail nickname “Sovereign.”
Sheriff Mike Hensley had the suspect in custody weeks before the murder.
In a CBC interview, Hensley reveals that, “On April the 21st of this year, we started receiving calls that there was an individual on the Appalachian Trail threatening people with a machete.” Deputies had been deployed to find him but with no warrants, they let him go. He was later arrested after giving a fake ID to police and for possession of drugs. The hikers that had encountered and reported him refused to press charges against him and he was released on probation.
As hikers discover that the person they hiked with for a day, an afternoon, or a meal, they’re posting tributes.
“Today I found out who was attacked and killed on the AT in Virginia and I’m completely shaken. When we hiked with him right before Hampton, TN I thought he was a badass cause he had two knee braces and it was hard for even baskets to keep up with him,” julieleavesatrace wrote on Instagram. “He said he was doing shorter miles because he was easing into recovery with his knees. But he did those shorter miles so fast! We ate with him at the shelter before Hampton where he decided to stay for the night. There was a graffiti board there and I remember Drawing a huge heart on it. RIP Stronghold. I know for sure if you were still here you would’ve made it to Katahdin. ❤️”
Hikers are now searching for ways to honor his memory.
One user wanted to carry something of his to the end of the trail in his honor. Another wants to build a shelter in his memory. The annual celebratory “Trail Days” taking place in Damascus, Virginia–where Sanchez would likely be celebrating the halfway point of the trail–is holding a ceremony in his memory.
Jordan has been seen before a judge and is being held in jail pending psychiatric evaluation and trial.