Ronald Sanchez, 43, of Oklahoma was among a group of four people camping along the trail in Virginia when, authorities say, 30-year-old James Jordan began harassing them and attacked with a knife. Sanchez died at the scene while another hiker was left severely injured.
“To survive those deployments in Iraq and to die like this is just devastating,” his former wife, Elizabeth Kordek, told CNN.
Sanchez’s sister, Brenda Sanchez, told the news outlet her brother was proud of undertaking his hike, and that it followed a long period of crippling depression.
“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,” she said.
Her brother spoke with The Oklahoman last year about his condition and use of recreation therapy programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs to help him recover from his distress. After a 16-year stint in the Army that included three deployments to Iraq, he said he was discharged in 2011 with PTSD and major depression, and for the next several years rarely left his home.
“Before the VA, my health was just going downhill. I sat around and ate junk food all the time. The VA was welcoming, and it’s been a good program for me. I tell everybody about it,” he told the newspaper.
Hikers had been warned about Jordan for several weeks after he was accused of threatening people along the trail. Jordan, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, has a rap sheet for previous arrests over the years, including for open and gross lewdness, assault and battery, resisting arrest and drug charges, CBS Boston reported.
He was most recently arrested in April for criminal impersonation and drug possession after allegedly assaulting some hikers. They declined to press assault charges, according to Outside Online.
He was arrested on Saturday and charged with one count of murder and one count of assault with intent to murder. A motive for the attacks remains unclear. A judge on Monday ordered a psychiatric evaluation for him.