Appalachian Trail Conservancy enhancing communication after hiker murdered on trail

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DAMASCUS, Va. (WJHL) – The Appalachian Trail Conservancy said the trail is a safe place – but they’re working to make communication even stronger after a hiker was murdered last weekend.

43-year-old Ronald Sanchez Junior of Oklahoma was fatally stabbed along a section of the trail in Wythe County, Virginia.

News Channel 11 was there Thursday night as the community held a vigil for “Stronghold” as he’s known on the trail.

He was an Army veteran who was hiking the trail to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Conservancy leaders tell us the trail is a safe place, and tragic situations like this are rare.

To them – it’s rejuvenated the importance of sticking together and supporting one another.

This weekend – hundreds of hikers will pass through Damascus, Virginia for the Trail Days Festival.

“Hikers from around the country who are in love with the Appalachian Trail come to reunite with other hikers, to experience a little bit of the trail culture,” Communications Manager for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Jordan Bowman said.

Damascus is a hot spot for hikers to take a breather.

The conservancy oversees protecting the trail – including working to help keep hikers safe.

“One of our main roles is education, so teaching people what they should look out for, taking care of themselves,” Bowman went on to say, “Truthfully one of our biggest pieces of advice is trusting your gut.”

After Ronald Sanchez Junior was fatally stabbed on the trail last weekend in Wythe County, “It’s okay to be in shock. Even more importantly, It’s okay to want to talk to someone else,” Bowman said.

Conservancy leaders are working to enhance communication with hikers.

“One of the things we want to make sure is streamlining the reporting process, making sure that people are able to quickly let us know and the rest of the AT community know if an incident has occurred,” Bowman went on to say,”We were able to report the incident and everything going on pretty quickly, that can always go faster.”

Michael Rowher is hiking the trail. He said he saw the murder suspect James Jordan before the stabbing.

“We basically told him you need to go that way and not go back to the trail. He didn’t look right. He looked like he was disturbed,” Rowher said.

Rowher went on to say,”Very saddened. Most all of the people out here on the trail are wonderful people.”

Jordan Bowman said they’re looking forward to a great hiking season.

“I know some of the recent events have cast a bit of a shadow over it. I know that the trail is a safe place,” Bowman said.

Bowman tells us they do not recommend hikers carry firearms while on the trail. Based on their data, they’re more likely to harm themselves or accidentally harm someone else rather than use it for defense.

The conservancy is offering counseling resources to hikers following Sanchez’s death.

James Jordan is charged with murder in the death of Ronald Sanchez. He also faces a charge of assault with intent to murder for injuring another hiker in that attack.

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