Hikers Take to the Appalachian Trail to Escape the Real World. This Time, They Couldn’t.

Hikers on the trail enjoy nature and create a community. When a threatening 30-year-old joined them last month in North Carolina, word spread quickly.

Comments: 113

  1. My daughter was on the AT with her small dog, with my support, but hesitation from my husband. Personally, I thought she was safer on the trail than doing laundry late at night in an apartment complex. I still feel the same. Keep going, intrepid adventurers!

  2. @Bookbabe49 I've never been among a friendlier, more supportive group of people than the hikers I have encountered on the AT. It's a self-selecting population. Jerks just tend not to want to participate in this activity and with this community. Sad to say, there's no guarantee that a psychopath will not also appear on the trail, but I feel a lot safer there than in a lot of other places I've been.

  3. @Robert Be careful with labels. Psychopath is a lot different than a paranoid schizophrenic. While the attacker hasn't been officially diagnosed, we need to be clear when talking about mental illness specifically what illness we're talking about. It's the only way to create better knowledge and prevent things like this in the future.

  4. @Bookbabe49 I agree you shouldn't worry about your daughter on the trail. If you live in Alabama, however, perhaps you should worry about her reproductive rights being stripped away. THAT is truly frightening.

  5. Back around 1970 society realized that there were a considerable number of people locked up in mental institutions who did not need to be there. In addition, there were extreme cases in which the authorities did not even know the name of the person they had locked up for decades. The law was changed to provide for periodic hearings to determine whether continued confinement was warranted, and the standard for confinement was made considerably tighter. The institutional response to the new system was to let a lot of people out of, and put many fewer people into, mental hospitals. Part of the reason this was a desire not to have to deal with the inevitable lawyers and judges and questions and paperwork. The end result was that many very sick people were out on the street, and some of them were dangerous. You can see the result in many big city parks or homeless shelters (this is NOT to say that everyone in a shelter is mentally ill). In, say, 1960, someone exhibiting the kind of symptoms described here would have been institutionalized and probably heavily dosed with thorazine or something like it to keep him manageable. I strongly suspect that some of the mass murderers in the U.S. over the past several years would have been institutionalized and never made it into the newspapers. Today, the bias seems to be against institutionalization. This may be overall good or overall bad, I don't know, but it has a price.

  6. @Ken Agreed. And a funny coincidence that you share a first name with Ken Kesey, whose famous novel (later movie) 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest' put the idea of the evils of mental hospitals into the national conciousness.

  7. @Ken My memory is of bedlam. Cruelty meted out by an indifferent society. The Las Vegas, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and Sandy Hook murderers were never constrained by mental health institutions. The problem is with the society.

  8. Why aren’t there Forest Rangers policing the trails?It’s a shame that a few crazies can ruin this wonderful escape from reality.

  9. @Independent1776 The trails are some 2,200 miles long. We can add plenty of forest rangers. We can even add 1 forest ranger per mile. But doing so will cost a lot of money to pay them. Fine with me, but most people will complain about having to pay higher taxes to cover stuff like this. "Programs" cost money.

  10. @Independent1776 because national parks are public lands are severely underfunded, due to tax cuts over the last 8 years. Unfortunately, people in the U.S. refuse to pay taxes to fund our public parks.

  11. @Independent1776 to be fair to the Forest Service and National Park Rangers, it is a really, really long trail. No service has the staff to fully police it, and people like Jordan are not part of the normal calculus of what their jobs are anyway. Luckily this is a very rare occurrence on the AT.

  12. Why no mention of the fact that the attacker was previously apprehended, then released, before the murder and attempted murders? Why no mention of the inexcusable ignorance or reluctance to recognize, let alone treat, severe mental illness?

  13. @mdieri I head a report of this incident on NPR a few days ago and they discussed the incident at length including the first arrest. Unfortunately the hikers that originally reported it would not come off the trail to appear in court. Sounds like a good reason to be carrying some form of personal protection.

  14. @mdieri Oftentimes, liberal laws favor "the poor guy who was arrested" by "the evil police" and guys like this are set free, to continue doing harm.

  15. @mdieri In fact that is mentioned, in the third paragraph. He was arrested for threatening to kill his dog to extort food from other hikers. Unfortunately, the police are not equipped to deal with mental illness, and because that is a relatively "minor" crime they probably had to let him go. Our criminal justice system is flawed.

  16. If a person in public clutches their chest, falls and lies unconscious on the street, at least some, if not many, passersby will understand that this may be a heart attack, and they will perform CPR, use a defibrillator, and call 911. That is how good our system of public health awareness has been for heart disease. Not so for mental illnesses. Most of us, whether hiking or not, cannot recognize when someone is psychotic, and exhibiting strange, violent, or anti-social behavior, they in fact suffer from a disease of the brain , be it schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury, intoxication, even depression, dementia or stroke. Even worse, health and police professionals do not always respond appropriately to these situations, sometimes resulting in death and injury to the afflicted, or innocent bystanders, like those killed and injured due to the psychotic break of Mr Jordan. It is time we as a society come to grips with how to humanely and safely help those in crisis from a mental disorder. It is time our public health system address this in the same educationally aggressive way they have so successfully done for CPR/heart disease. If we do not more develop a more humane, sophisticated, and intelligent approach to mental disorders, people we will continue to fail to prevent tragic death and injuries in any number of situations where untreaated mental illness plays a role, as described in this article.

  17. @robert I don't know how you can read this article and come to the conclusion that public health awareness is to blame. The first four paragraphs of the article detail how people on the trail were aware of how he was "acting erratically" and tried to intervene by giving him a bus ticket elsewhere. The problem here certainly isn't public awareness, but the more complex issue of what can be done for the mentally ill.

  18. @David I am not sure I agree with you that people were "aware" of what was going for this gentleman. Even if you are right though, giving someone a bus ticket as a way to get them medical help and provide safety for others is not the solution. We know what to do in a cardiac emergency, largely due to public health education and prevention. I agree that understanding what to do for the mentally ill is complicated (I'm a psychiatrist) but we already know how to safely manage and treat psychosis. Similar to cardiac and other medical emergencies, the public needs to be enabled to respond in these types of emergencies and recognize when a person is suffering. Unfortunately, taboo and discrimination towards mental illness gets in our way, more than anything else.

  19. @David Just as a heart attacks symptoms moves even passersby to call for medical evaluation, and safety, too often similarly bizarre scary symptoms, though threatening, do not have lead to similar medical evaluation and safety. Hikers shared this fear and alerted others to who he was. They did the best they could, even paying for a bus to take him to where he could be happier. Instead, he should have been picked up and evaluated by medical personnel available as police so violent mental behavior doesn't lead to such tragic outcomes. There were clues, but nowhere to call for mental help. This death should not have happened. Our nation's health depends on where our tax dollars go.

  20. What is the reason that it was charged federally? I see that he was charged with murder within the special maritime jurisdiction of the U.S.—is the reason because this took place on federal lands or something?

  21. @Bo Shoemaker My understanding is that the homicide occurred on National Forest Service property. What I'm not clear on is whether the USFS has Exclusive or Concurrent legislative jurisdiction in that particular area for the U.S. Attorney's Office to charge for murder.

  22. @Bo Shoemaker Yes. The Appalachian Trail is in the jurisdiction of the Federal Government and this crime is being investigated by the F.B.I.

  23. @Bo Shoemaker The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is under National Park Service administration, making this a federal courts case.

  24. First I want to say that it's truly tragic what happened to these hikers. I am sorry for the victims, and wish that police response had been faster to this clearly mentally ill man. That said, I hope that this does not discourage anyone from doing a trip like this, whether it's for a week or for a month. Part of the appeal of backpacking, whether people are consciously aware of it or not, is to get away from civilization and to feel truly at the mercy of nature. You cede control of your comfort--and that means a little bit of your safety too. However, most of that risk can be avoided with appropriate planning and packing. During my last backpacking trip we were truly remote-- besides my group of four, we never saw a single additional soul during our trip. We had fun and saw some awe-inspiring things, but on our way out we encountered dangerous situations that I have been privileged to never consider before. I have never felt as desperate and animalistic as I did for the final few hours before we made it 'back.' I returned home with not only a healthier respect for nature, but with a newfound appreciation for humanity and the societies we have built. I realized just how interconnected we are, and how much we rely on other people nearly every moment of our lives. All this is to say that such experiences are worthwhile, and a tragedy like this is rare. In these difficult times, if you want to be feel connected to humanity again, ironically I suggest getting out into nature.

  25. @Rachel I agree wholeheartedly with your perspective on the value of “getting away from things“ and spending some time with nature. I think that the self-selecting nature of backpacking fortunately tends to make these kinds of incidents rare: people looking to cause trouble usually won’t first make the extra effort getting out to some remote trail. BTW, I don’t know the nature of what you referred to as “dangerous situations“ on your last (I hope you mean “most recent“) trek, but I’m glad you survived to write your comment. When you said: “I have never felt as desperate and animalistic as I did for the final few hours before we made it 'back.'” I had a flashback to scenes from the movie “Deliverance“.

  26. Given the educational level of many hikers, one would have hoped that this man's behavior would have been recognized as paranoia. Such a recognition should have triggered a request for law enforcement to make a mental health arrest. He could have then been fully evaluated at an appropriately staffed facility and hospitalized.

  27. @KF2 How do you make a request from local law enforcement when you have no cell signal?

  28. @KF2 When you are a white male, this society gives you the benefit of the doubt. If this had been a person of color, I am pretty confident that things would have turned out differently.

  29. From a long-time AT section hiker (female) - - no matter how you slice it, my heart is heavy today. Last summer, I surprised an enormous black rattler in PA! We know there are certain risks! Everyone is right -- this could have happened anywhere. And yet, it happened on the Trail, and I grieve that mark of memory now that we'll all carry. [ To those still out there this year -- Keep the Faith and Walk On!! - - I have been the victim of random violent assault on the street (by similarly mentally disturbed folks) twice in my life, and now I carry a small spray bottle full of vinegar everywhere I go. It's legal in 50 states and does not cause permanent damage like mace does. But sprayed in an attacker's eyes, it can give a momentary life-saving advantage. I recommend this highly.]

  30. "dreamers taking a break from life" Interesting thing to call them. I'd say it's the other way around: taking a break from strife to find (a) life

  31. So none of these hikers carry a gun?

  32. @Chris Anderson Are you suggesting the the trail would be safer if hikers carried guns? Ai yi yi yi yi.... Pretty soon everyone's shooting whenever they hear a suspicious noise or see a shadow.... that would make a really safe, fun hike.

  33. @Chris Anderson What a grotesque question? Are we still living in the days of the Wild West? Guns take lives, not save lives. We shouldn't have to own a gun to feel safe, even if the evidence shows that owning one does not make us safer.

  34. @Chris Anderson At over 2000 miiles long, the trail takes you across multiple states. Not many of them have Carry laws.

  35. Terrifying story. How do the authorities know this man didn’t kill or leave for dead one or more other hikers? Commenters are saying Jordan is mentally ill, I am not convinced. I am sure people with mental health issues have hiked the Trail before and managed not to kill their fellow hikers. Jordan seems one of the many people who now enjoy killing others. With all of the mass shootings and other random attacks of innocent people, it is time to look beyond the easy convenient answers and admit there are highly dangerous yet sane people in the population. RIP Mr Sanchez. Condolences to his family.

  36. @Lynn in DC Please don't construe this comment as sympathy for the killer, but -- anyone who would threaten violence, let alone carry it through, let alone kill someone with no apparent motive, is by definition insane, in my book. There are people who are sane but dangerous -- people who do violence for political reasons, or who kill for money or out of jealousy -- but this man is not one of them.

  37. The Appalachian Trail is 2,190 miles long. I try to walk 2 miles a day at my local YMCA with the aid of my cane. That’s about 730 miles a year. So if I walk every day for the next three years, I will have walked the equivalent of the Appalachian Trail. I grant you the scenery and the challenge aren't the same, but the Y has hot showers and plenty of nice women to talk to.

  38. @A. Stanton Yes, let's all stay indoors and never go into the nasty and brutish world. That way, we won't have to watch the environment degrade as we destroy it.

  39. @A. Stanton Until someone with a weapon enters the Y. Hey if it happens at schools, concerts, and movie theatres, no public space is safe from guns.

  40. A. Stanton didn’t recommend that. He has a cane, which means limited walking. The outdoors could make us compassionate, not curmudgeonly.

  41. "yet Saturday's murder was only the 10th in 45 years of record-keeping." They say it like it's not a-lot--very bizarre... this is how indifferent our country has become to violence. Any is too many!

  42. @Squilly - Well, actually, the comment is not so bizarre, and does not represent indifference to violence. In retrospect, we as a society might have posted armed guards along each mile of the AT, and this might have prevented even *all* of the 10 murders in the past 45 years. If instead one is interested in minimizing violent unnecessary death in our society, one might look at which of those deaths were preventable and the cost of prevention in each case. There are plenty of other circumstances that are more easily addressable than murder on the Appalachian Trail. While "any is too many" is a laudable emotional sentiment, it is not a logical sentiment, and applying it to the allocation of limited resources is a recipe for chaos and ineffectiveness.

  43. I do not understand why we as a nation cannot figure out how to keep these deranged people away from the general population and get them the help they desperately need. Otherwise, lock them up! We have an easier time locking people for petty crimes than we do people that pose a dangerous threat to society. How many warning signs did this idiot give us? And yet we just walked on by hoping he didn't go crazy on us. That is no way to have to live in this world. We have to get better at separating the evil in this country from the good.

  44. @Rob Because we don't lock people up for what they MIGHT do?

  45. Understood, but when somebody is clearly completely crazy and is threatening people, do we have to wait for them to murder somebody before we help them?

  46. @Rob Deranged and evil are not appropriate words for this situation and are the kind of unhelpful labels that keep mental illness stigmatized, solving no issues. It's almost certain the attacker was a paranoid schizophrenic. That condition means the person suffering from the illness doesn't understand the thoughts they are having are not based in reality. They might act in ways that are terrifying and do harm like this horrible instance, but they are not operating in the world you and I are. They, unlike psychopaths and sociopaths are not able to function in society, or calculate their actions. By all eyewitness accounts for the weeks leading up to the event, the attacker was not making any sense most of the time. It's also worth mentioning that paranoid schizophrenics do have a self-preservation tendency and know how to control their behaviors in certain circumstances, like in front of the police or a judge, but this isn't calculated, it just fits into their story which again, isn't based in reality. This is why schizophrenics really can't help themselves when in the grips of their disease, they really are at the mercy of society.

  47. Another shining example of why we need to bring back sanitariums in this country.

  48. @Nature Voter yep! I'm sure his family has "tried for years" to get this man help but since he is an adult nobody can enforce medication adherence.

  49. @Nature Voter You can thank Ronald ("if you've seen one redwood you've seen them all") Reagan for that.

  50. @Nature Voter Perhaps smaller facilities would better serve the mentally ill population. Sanitariums were not ideal.

  51. What happened to the dog? Where is it? Is someone taking care of the dog?

  52. @Randé In this day and age you are so right to focus on the dog. It is sarcasm at its best. Thank you for your post.

  53. THIS is a foreseeable consequence of " Community Mental Healthcare ", without Funding. There is none, in most places. The " care " is administered in Jails and Prisons, AFTER innocents have been killed or severely harmed. No harm, No foul. Right, GOP ??? My sincere condolences to the Families of the Victims.

  54. So Phyliss, just what has the GOP got to do with health care? After all, the problem has been with us for years, YEARS...and both parties have ignored it so why blame it on the GOP? @Phyliss Dalmatian

  55. @skylinefirepest Because if u check over the years the GOP has always opposed spending money on healthcare. The GOP has always opposed the social safety net. Money according to the GOP and now trump is only for the Rich, the Banks, and Wall street.

  56. Which Party cuts funding to the bone, for anything except the Military and Corporate Welfare ??? For Decades.

  57. The last camping experience I had on public lands resulted in my friend and me hastily leaving at 2:00 am. We became afraid of the people camping nearby because of some alarming behavior. We quietly walked out, leaving the tent behind to recover the next day. Fortunately my car was not far away. I am not a particularly fearful person, but this incident drove home how vulnerable we were.

  58. Other commenters have criticized the apparent failure of authorities and/or private citizens to effectively intervene in a case of what, in retrospect, appears to have been a case of psychosis. I would suggest that such interventions are neither legally nor ethically as straightforward as these commenters seem to believe. People - even psychotic people - retain a significant degree of personal autonomy, and that autonomy encompasses a right to refuse medical treatment. The law of every US state outlines circumstances in which such a right of refusal may be overridden, but typically these circumstances are quite narrowly defined, most often as the subject being an imminent danger to himself or others. If at the time of his arrest in North Carolina Mr. Jordan was threatening violence neither to himself or others, it is unlikely that authorities could have committed him to psychiatric treatment. It is even less realistic to suppose that his fellow hikers could have done more for him than they did.

  59. @Aaron Walton There are, of course, as you point out, many situations, where as you suggest, it is not ethical to force treatment on people with mental illness, and where, as long as they are not in imminent danger of harming themselves or others. The same applies in general to those who suffer with a medical illness but choose not to seek treatment. Unfortunately he was threatening violence, several times, and committed violent and potentially dangerous acts, so your argument really does not apply in this situation. Ethically too, your argument, although it may be enshrined in las, needs to be critically assessed. Many use this argument to just leave the mentally illl to "rot with their rights on" What about the psychotic homeless, living in the streets, in the cold, and dying from hypothermia? We know too much now about mental illness, to let bias and our own fear of them get in our way of making rational, ethical judgements. Many states now have laws which allow initial evaluation and quick legal hearings where someone can be "forced" to get are even while their personal autonomy is taken into account. If we are so concerned about personal autonomy, why do we jump in and provide care for the cardiac patient or the seizure episode? They also have no personal autonomy, yet we see it as an imperative, to save lives. We shouldnt use your argument to justify ignoring the mentally ill and their sufferring -- that is the most unethical thing of all.

  60. @Aaron Walton until it's you or a family member. My psychotic brother had the right to refuse medication for paranoid schizophrenia, almost die in a snow bank in upstate NY and intimidate providers, but I wouldn't accept that. I hounded the mental health "system" until he was hospitalized for 2 years. After he was discharged, he managed to stay out of the hospital, barely, and lived and died lonely, without friends or family because he was frightening and smelled so badly you might vomit if he came near. I could weep thinking about what my once smart and funny little brother endured due to his right not to treat his serious mental illness. This is not a way to live or die.

  61. Keep telling his story.

  62. Two words: Bear Spray. I have never hiked the AT, but I have logged hundreds of miles in the Rocky Mountains, mostly in Montana, and no one in their right mind would go down a trail out here without at least one can of bear spray (two per person is the recommendation). Also, note the expiry date. By comparison with hiking/packing in less accessible areas, like high elevation, I have never met anywhere near the numbers of fellow hikers described here on the trail. Maybe one or two in a 24 hour period. I have hiked days without seeing anyone else. Sheer bliss! At the same time, I will say that I never met a more helpful and interesting community of people than those I have met backpacking. This tragic incident is a real anomaly. My condolences to Mr Sanchez's family.

  63. We are in an era where the mentally ill have been granted incredible civil liberties. We can thank the ACLU for this--they have done as much as anyone in abolishing mental institutions. I used to support them, but can't do so any longer, and cases like this are front and center. Sometimes, when communities recognizes certain people are a danger to others and need involuntary institutionalization, we just need to let the authorities do it. I'd rather have that guy try to sue to prove his sanity from a mental hospital than be left out there to commit murder.

  64. My favorite trail name was Mary Poppins for a woman who could pull whatever emergency stuff you needed out of her backpack at any time. Not relevant to this story, but had to share

  65. @DWR Looks like the Mary Poppins of this trail would've needed a machete or wasp spray for the "emergency".

  66. We definitely have this problem in Seattle. People say that the aggressive, ranting lost souls on the streets, living in parks or forgotten spaces, are harmless. Except for the guy who tried to throw a woman off a bridge a few weeks ago. Or the man who raped a woman in a car dealership bathroom last year. We need better mental heath assistance in this country, but we also need to stop letting a misguided understanding of liberty enable suffering and chaos.

  67. @dbll Agreed and same issue in Olympia. I found it interesting that this attack made national news when it happens regularly on trails all over the place. I was walking on a trail near my office in 2011 when a man (who appeared to be a transient from the recently displaced Occupy Olympia movement) grabbed me around the neck from behind and held a knife to my face. Fortunately I was able to get away with no major physical injuries, except a lacerated tongue from my own bite when shoving his arm off from around my neck. I read in the news a year later that a woman was sexually assaulted on the same trail and a few years after that a homeless man had been stabbed, same trail. Prior to this experience I loved hiking and running on trails. Now, even almost 8 years later the joy of it is still gone and I won't go anywhere without my husband or a weapon. It took away my fundamental faith and trust in humanity and left me with the sense that I, in particular being a woman, apparently don't have a right to enjoy the outdoors without the fear of being assaulted.

  68. @dbll For the record, the majority of homeless are harmless. But that doesn't make the few who are a threat any less dangerous.

  69. @nom de guerre If one of them attacks me, I don't much care that "the majority" are harmless. This is the kind of thing you don't learn until it is too late.

  70. This is happening all over America every day. The unique setting of the Appalachian trial is why this article was written. Acutely mentally ill individuals are impossible to help without public safety laws that temporarily restrict civil rights when someone is mentally ill and a threat to self or others. There also MUST be a publicly funded system of services that can identify, locate, and temporarily confine these individuals in the short term. In the longer term, the challenge is to help them remain stable in the community, with adequate medical and support services. A very small percentage would need long term institutionalization if adequate services were available. It's hard and thankless work. It costs money, but it is money well spent.

  71. @Psychiatrist Who gets to declare anyone "mentally ill?"

  72. This is another example of how the mental health needs in the US are in crisis. People cannot get help for family members many times even after trying for years.

  73. The US is twice as rich, per-person inflation-adjusted, as it was in 1980. Anyone who says we can't afford: > medical care for all, including full-scale care for emotional illness, > maintenance of our public lands > etc, etc. is misinformed or lying. Of course there remains the hard problem of treating the mentally ill without compromising civil liberties. But that problem is somewhat easier to solve with adequate funding.

  74. Psychotic people's civil liberties should indeed be compromised, whether on the Appalachian Trail, in the canyons of midtown Manhattan, or inside our subways. There's no liberty for anyone in being killed by someone in need of psychiatric help. And there's no freedom in mental illness. Being trapped in a sick mind is not healthy.

  75. @B. The nations prisons are actually the de Facto mental institutions. Which accounts for the lack of proper and effective mental health.

  76. I am ready to re-engage the trail this June in that area of Virginia where the incident occurred. This is my third summer hiking sections starting at Springer Mtn in Georgia. I have experienced zero dangers from humans so far. It has been a respite from the craziness of urban life. The community feelings formed on the trail have been beautiful to experience. Unfortunately, tragedy struck this week. It will not deter me from the trail and the journey towards Maine which will probably take three more summers. Each moment is a blessing. Peace to all. Prayers for the victim's family and friends.

  77. @Stephen Oldham Well said. I love the AT. Its a park in its own class. When I was hiking there was a different terrible incident. Its the same now as it was then: the AT is safer than the communities it threads by and through. These are tragedies but shouldn’t stop anyone, any age, any gender, from enjoying the multitude of bounties that can be found on a long hike up or down the trail. Its one of the most peaceful areas I’ve had the privilege of visiting on this Earth. I look forward to my next visit.

  78. My daughter and a friend were backpacking on this same section of trail about 2 weeks before this happened, and it sickens me to think that this psychotic man, who clearly needed medical treatment, could have encountered them rather than the two people who became his tragic victims. The one death and one near-death were totally preventable except for the selfishness and myopia of the through-hikers who were so focused on meeting their hiking goals that they couldn't take time to appear in court and ensure this guy was jailed. They now have to live with the guilt of their bad judgment. My heart goes out to the woman he terrified and stabbed.

  79. @TFL My sentiments exactly. They knew he was a danger yet didn't report him to authorities. Also, am I reading this correctly that he had a dog? As an animal lover I am completely appalled that NONE of these people did anything to help this poor animal. You know that dog had to have been horrifically abused. Talk about a self centered bunch.......When hiking a trail is more important than a life you need to check your priorities.

  80. So it takes killing somebody before this obviously mentally ill man is dealt with. And of course the dealing doesn't include the help, he has made obvious to all, he needs. This didn't need to happen. This man and his dog (what happened to the dog?) should have been shepherded off the trail right away, and the man mentally evaluated for fitness to be in society. No one, especially "law enforcement" wants to be saddled with these people, yet, thanks to the Reagan administration, our streets are filled with them. They are the homeless, the drug addled and addicted, living under bridges and in tents in the cities across the US. So law enforcement in Tennessee turns him loose, again, and he commits murder.

  81. @LaPine--You can't blame ol' Ronnie for this one. Started with LBJ and the decommissioning of large and horrible facilities that were supposed to be replaced with community-based mental health supports. Guess what part didn't happen? Money went to fund Vietnam.

  82. @LaPine The dog, as reported, is in a no-kill shelter and the attacker has been allowed to make arrangements for his family to retrieve the dog. Also, this dog isn't the only canine companion the attacker had over the past few weeks. Several reports have him with 2 dogs, one of which he was beating because it was showing it's teeth to him.

  83. @LaPine Exactly who was supposed to shepherd this person off the trail "right away"? These are wilderness areas that may not even have cell phone service. Should state governments hire policemen to patrol the trail in case every few years a hiker becomes aggressive?

  84. Unfortunately a mentally ill killer entering a school to randomly shoot other humans or a mentally ill hiker seeking to knife people to death or burn them alive meets the same feeble resistance -none. I would not venture one mile along the AT without a handgun. Can you blame me?

  85. @Art The Appalachian Trail, and other such, is far safer than most cities, which are far safer than most small towns across the country (look at the data). I've hiked and camped all over the country, never carried (or owned) a weapon of any kind.

  86. The Appalachian Trail has had a small amount of violence and a few murders over half a century, with many tens of millions of visitors. It is safe when compared with most other areas. Carrying a weapon almost anywhere has been found to increase the likelihood of being harmed. Since I have never seen an easily accessible weapon in many thousands of miles of hiking, you would also have the problem of not being able to get to the weapon quickly if it was needed. We try to avoid carrying any extra weight. The best way to stay safe is to be observant, and cautious when necessary.

  87. @Art Art, I think that fear is very misguided. It's among one of the safest places on the earth. What scares most people about it though is you have to leave all the illusions of safety behind you when you hit the trail. No roof over your head, you carry your food and water (mostly) and you give yourself over to your wits and physical ability. Everything you leave behind, including guns are illusions.

  88. Many years ago when visiting a small hospital in a good part of NW Chicago while parking I saw a huge apparently vacant facility across the hill. I asked what is that - well the grounds keeper said, "That is the closed down mental health facility." Later I got a job request from a city/county run facility to help automate the place. They were putting in a central filling point and delivering trays of meds around the city for their out patient mental health people. They had a huge warehouse and they were getting pallets of meds and breaking them down for individual patients and transporting them around the city. They were using huge quantities of meds, many from offshore to save money. Mental health patients are either outpatients or in jail. Sad but there we are. BTW The Pacific Crest Trail is a vastly better place to hike than "The Appie Trail as they call it. They being the regular hikers. The crest trail is almost all in the open, few people and no bugs. U only have to cover water in a couple of places. U start from the south - particularly if U have had rains in Death Valley - the wild flowers are awesome. U can also swim in the buff with no worries - no crazies here. Even brewed a cup of tea for Colin Fletcher - book the complete hiker. My saying is East is Worst and West is best. NYC a huge exception there.

  89. @Butch Burton There is no "best" when it comes to trails. Unless your attitude is, "The best is where I am right now." Pretty good attitude, especially when it comes to cross country hiking.

  90. @Butch Burton "No crazies here" -- - you can't say that. Makes me disregard whatever else you declare.

  91. You'll always find weirdos on the trail. That's long-distance hiking. Be smart. Use your head. Don't tell suspicious people where you plan to camp or how many people are in your group. I've used the "Oh I forgot something" or "I should go check on my friend" excuse on more than one occasion. Backtrack or bail. Spend a few days off-trail waiting for the person to move on. That or hop-scotch. Hitch a ride a few towns up and hope you lose them. The dangerous people are almost always local to the area. Drug users or I don't know what. They use the woods as some sort of party house or something. This guy sounds different. James Jordan appears to have traveled with the herd at least some distance. That's not normal. If news like that caught my attention, I would either sleep in a crowded shelter or somewhere no one would ever find my campsite. Not until I knew Jordan was gone.

  92. Not all the dangerous people on the Appalachian Trail (or any trail anywhere) are mentaly ill; some of them are simply violent or criminal. It would have been very helpful if this article had addressed issues such as self-protection and means of contacting authorities to report crime or seek medical assistance, particularly in non-park settings. I have seen lots of pamphlets and hand-out sheets on what to do if encountering a bear while hiking; why not some guidelines on how to deal with bad actors on the trail? (Hint: The very basic choices are fight or flight, with many permutations of each. It shouldn’t be too hard for a group of experienced outdoors people and a couple of psychologists to concoct a response tree for various encounter scenarios.) By the way, if someone attacks or threatens you it doesn’t much matter if he/she is mentally ill or criminal; it’s the behavior, not the underlying condition, that needs to be responded to and dealt with.

  93. @Mon Ray I agree with your last paragraph completely. You have to be prepared to defend yourself and others in these back woods situations. The alleged perpetrator here should have been left tied to a tree for bear food.

  94. How could he NOT be mentally ill?

  95. Someone offered to get the guy a bus ticket!?! He needed care -- a humane, safety-net supported intervention. Now though, post-murder, he will be off to jail, and probably a for-profit one at that. What a travesty.

  96. Wonder why the authorities didn't consider an involuntary commitment for an evaluation at a hospital?

  97. I grew up in the hills of North Carolina and have hiked that part of the trail. It is frightening to think about what would happen with a dangerous lunatic loose there. It is so incredibly isolated. Sometimes I wouldn't see another person for hours at a time. You're on the lookout for black bears, cougars, and wild boar, but not people. I never took a gun but I always had a good hatchet and knife.

  98. @Benjo I wouldn't carry a hatchet. There are no burn areas and no burn days. A hatchet is a lot of weight for something you're going to use rarely if at all. My knife isn't intimidating anyone either. It's mostly there to open stubborn candy wrappers and other annoying food packaging. It's practically TSA approved. If you think you need self protection on the trail, you're looking at the trail the wrong way. Cougars and wild boars are rare. People you don't want to be around are highly common. Why else would you be walking 2,000 miles through the mid-Atlantic? You should probably develop ways to avoid people that don't involve weapons.

  99. @Andy. I didn't think of my hatchet or knife as weapons. They were tools. My hatchet was relatively light. Not like a big axe. My knife was a good knife, enough to be intimidating, but I found it useful for many things.

  100. If this man had been anything other race/ethnicity there is no way that he would have been allowed to remain on the trail for that long. I live in a city where mentally ill PoC are arrested for throwing temper tamtrums in libraries, but somehow this man was allowed to threaten the safety of others MULTIPLE times, and ultimately had to kill someone before it was acknowledged that he was a legitimate threat. Nonsense. I have done a small portion of the AT and while I do believe it is safer than most other spaces, this reveals a larger societal flaw that we need to reasses who is considered "dangerous" and who needs to be detained immediately vs who is just "quircky" and can be ignored.

  101. His dog, the one he apparently threatened to kill, turned him in to authorities. Karma.

  102. "....insisting that his handle was “Night-owl” or “Tallahassee Red"... of course he did. Because there is always a #floridaman connection if you dive deep enough.

  103. no way would I hike this trail, or any trail like this, without a side arm. You are responsible for your own protection.

  104. Sadly, I had the same thought.

  105. @Todd. I live in Maine, our woods and forests here are pretty dense. I have never gone into the deep woods without a sidearm.

  106. Ok. So who owns the movie rights? This has everything. Bill Bryson could write the screenplay.

  107. do these hikers have to fill out permits before hitting the trail?

  108. @Dolly Patterson Permits are used in the Smokey Mts National Park, for a small fee and must be in hand while hiking. Shenandoah National Park requires a free permit upon entry and surrender on exit, keep in hand. Baxter State Park rules best be followed to the T- please and thank you. Three time thru.

  109. @Dolly Patterson To my knowledge, they do not. Hikers are encouraged to sign in at the Appalachian Trail HQ in Harpers Ferry.

  110. @Dolly Patterson No. Only in certain places (like the smokey mountains) do you need back country camping permits if you want to stay in a campsite other than a designated shelter. These are public lands, maintained by volunteer groups and managed by the federal government. Hikers are encouraged to log into trail log books and shelter log books in order to 1. estimate the numbers using the park and 2. loosely track people in case of emergencies. However, most people go by trail names and for their own safely are careful about posting too much information in logs or online about themselves or their specific whereabouts.

  111. I suspect that if the perp here had gotten a sound beating or two somewhere along the line, and been relieved of his hardware and a few teeth, he would have backed down. I suspect that the next in line will be dealt with in that manner. I would have taken his dog, as well.

  112. @PG, your position--indeed, this entire article--brings up some very potent ethical questions.

  113. Mentality ill or not it's the behavior. Whether criminal or mental these folks do not belong in the public. For better or worse in the past these folks were restricted or punished/confined. A civil public demands it..so it's not necessary to consider a concealed carry permit and weapon!