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This past weekend, there was a fatal attack on the Appalachian Trail

My girlfriend and I are planning a section hike of the AT through the White Mountains of NH and partly through the Maine section this summer. We have hiked the AT trail on several occasions before and consider ourselves somewhat experienced. We are local to New England.

  • For regular experienced hikers, how should a person interpret an attack such as the one reported?

  • Other than standard precautions on the trail, what other safety measures can / should be taken to mitigate the risk of such an incident?

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Realistically this is something to be aware of, horrible assaults and murders have happened before on the trail. Beyond that, for me at least this isn't a reason not to hike, it's a reason to be aware and prepared. Tons of people die in car accidents but people are still going to drive to work.

  • These are still very rare compared to the rest of the things in the outdoors that will kill you (falls, getting lost, drowning, suicide, etc).

  • Ultimately it's up to you to protect yourself, law enforcement is not going to get there in time. (This is true even in urban areas).

  • You have to pay attention to your surroundings, if a car is circling the block and following you before asking if you want a ride the answer is no, but you need to realize that it's been following you.

For precautions mostly it's down to being aware of the other travelers and possibly traveling in groups. It sounded like this attacker was known to be dangerous, it probably would have helped to have fled the area as soon as they saw him.

  • I find this answer curious. I asked the original AT question following on from outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/18391/… where I was told I was way to paranoid for being cautious about what I say to strangers when hiking alone. – StrongBad May 14 at 23:44
  • The article I read suggested that the attacker made violent threats first to a group of 4, at which time 2 members grabbed up their stuff and ran while the other 2 were still quickly packing up. The 2 remaining were attacked. 1 survived and caught up to the 2 who ran first. Moral: When threatened with violence, don't split the group. They would have been safer as a group of 4. – Loduwijk May 15 at 15:20
  • See my edits to my answer. They moved on when they first saw him. He then found their camp and 2 of the 4 ran and he chased them. The other 2 remained and were attacked when he returned. – StrongBad May 17 at 16:18
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You should probably interpret the incident as a rare fluke and try and forget about it. Murders and crime have happened on the AT before: Frequency of crime/assault on the Appalachian Trail

I have been accused of being overly paranoid Is it poor etiquette to ask fellow backpackers where they have been/where they are going? but I suggest you limit the info you share with strangers. You should also share your info with someone back home.

As you will be in the Whites on the AT, sign into the trail registers, talk to the hut care takers, and any thru hikers to get info about any problem people on the trail. They will readily share info if you just strike up a conversation. You can also check he thru hiker Facebook pages and the gut hook app for info about problems.

Details of the attack have now been released by the trek:

Jordan [the murderer] approached a group of Appalachian Trail hikers ... acting unstable. ... the group of hikers set up camp further along the trail... where Jordan appeared around 1am. He addressed the hikers through their tents, threatening to pour gasoline on their tents and set them on fire. As the four hikers decided to pack and leave the site, Jordan approached them, wielding a knife.

Two hikers fled the site northbound on the trail, placing a 911 call ... After giving chase, Jordan then returned to the site and confronted the remaining two hikers, Sanchez [the murdered victim] and an as-yet identified female hiker [the surviving victim]. After a verbal confrontation, Jordan began stabbing Sanchez, who fell to the ground. The female hiker fled the scene, pursued by Jordan who caught up to her and began stabbing her. The female hiker fell to the ground and played dead, at which point Jordan left the scene. The female hiker continued down the trail, finding help with a pair of hikers who assisted her six miles to Smyth County. They placed a 911 call ...

The full affidavit is also available. It seems like they did everything correct: camping as a group, moving own, calling 911 as quick as possible. Splitting up and the second group staying in camp, as opposed to leaving in the opposite direction immediately, was obviously the wrong decision in this case. That said, fleeing camp without gear is not the best choice in most circumstances either.

  • +1, but: Comment on fleeing camp without gear....I always have bare essentials in a small dayhiker, which I have in the tent with me or close by if I am sleeping outside. It would be the work of seconds to grab the dayhiker. By bare essentials, I mean money, credit card, ID, a small bottle of water, a few snacks, a warm top, minimal rain gear and, if off trail, the SPOT. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 18 at 18:10

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