Smokies park rangers stress safety after Appalachian Trail murder

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) – Park rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are stressing safety precautions as more details come to light concerning the man accused of murdering one person and severely injuring another on the Appalachian Trail in Southwest Virginia,

James L. Jordan, 30, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was arrested in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 11, 2019, on a federal criminal complaint.

Authorities announced Jordan’s arrest after a deadly stabbing incident they said occurred along the Appalachian Trail in Wythe County, Virginia. 

Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say there are no records, permits or visitor complaints involving Jordan, however they say that does not mean he was not in the Smokies at some point in time.

Sean Mahoney and his two friends are hiking the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies. The friends from Cincinnati, Ohio say they spend about five to six hours a day on the trail.

Mahoney says they found out about the stabbing at a trail camp. 

“It was scary. Hearing about a stabbing on your first night on the trail,” he said.

The friends say they’re not too worried but they still take safety precautions.

“I think it’s one bad apple out of a whole bunch of good people,” added Mahoney.

Park rangers with the Smokies say violent crimes in the backcountry are exceedingly rare but hikers should take the same precautions they would in any public space, paying attention to who’s around them and what’s happening around them.

“If they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should report it to backcountry ranger or to the backcountry office,” said Dana Soehn with GSMNP.

Officials say it’s important to hike with others, staying close to one another. Park rangers suggest never hiking at night, carrying a flashlight and a small first aid kit and planning your hike.

Soehn adds hikers should let someone back home know their route, how long the hike should last and when they plan on finishing the hike.

“We do have backcountry rangers in the park along with a volunteer force that is out there with the adopt a trail program and the adopt a campsite program. So there are a lot of people who are out there who are additional eyes and ears along the trail. The Appalachian Trail in particular employs ridge runners that traverse just the 72 miles of Appalachian Trail in the park,” she said.

Many out hiking this week say there’s safety in numbers.

“Everyone’s really looking out for each other too. Everyone at the shelter is giving each other pointers, and stuff, keeping everyone safe too. I really feel safer after hearing about it because it really puts it in perspective about how people really care about complete strangers on the trail,” said Mahoney.

Park rangers say hikers are allowed to carry a firearm inside the park as long as they are in compliance with Tennessee and North Carolina permit laws.

For more safety recommendations when planning a hike, click here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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