An Army veteran who was murdered Saturday on the Appalachian Trail was hiking in order to overcome his wartime post-traumatic stress, according to family and fellow hikers.
Ronald Sanchez, 43, of Oklahoma, had turned to the trail for “therapeutic effect,” says former combat medic Sharon “MamaGoose” Smith, who hikes frequently.
“Instead, he lost his life in a senseless violent attack,” Smith tells PEOPLE.
Sanchez had suffered bouts of depression and isolation stemming from deployments in Iraq, his sister told CNN. The depression had recently lifted.
“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,” Brenda Sanchez Loera said.
The darkness descended anew in a different form on Friday, when Sanchez — whose trail name was Stronghold — encountered a man who had allegedly been menacing hikers since April.
According to an FBI affidavit viewed by PEOPLE, hiker James Louis Jordan, 30, allegedly first approached Sanchez and three other hikers on the trail in Smyth County, Virginia, on Friday evening.
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According to the affidavit from FBI Special Agent Micah Childers, Jordan — whose trail name is Sovereign — was acting “disturbed and unstable.”
Sanchez and his companions recognized Jordan from social media sites, where other backpackers warned that Jordan allegedly threatened hikers last month in Tennessee.
After encountering Jordan, Sanchez and his companions continued along the trail, making camp for the night in Wythe County, Virginia. There, Jordan again approached the group, allegedly telling them he planned to “pour gasoline on their tents and burn them to death,” Childers wrote.
Jordan allegedly chased two of the hikers with a knife, Childers wrote, and returned to the camp, where he argued with Sanchez and a woman hiker.
Jordan, of Massachusetts, allegedly stabbed Sanchez, who fell to the ground. The woman ran, with Jordan chasing. Jordan caught the exhausted woman and allegedly stabbed her until she “fell to the ground and played dead,” Childers wrote. The wounded woman, whose name has not been released, hiked six miles in order to call 911.
Sanchez, meanwhile, managed to activate an emergency alert on his cell phone before succumbing to his wounds. Early the next morning, sheriffs found his body. They also arrested Jordan. He has since been charged with murder and assault with intent to murder, according to the New York Times and other outlets.
PEOPLE was unable to reach a lawyer for Jordan.
Sanchez’ family remember him as loving and kindhearted, his sister told CNN. “He was always there for me, even though we were miles apart. He was a proud man. He loved people.”
The incident has shaken the hiking community, members say.
“As a veteran, I am especially saddened that he survived his deployments only to have his life cut short during a journey that was supposed to be cleansing and healing,” says Smith, 52. “My only hope is that, during his time on trail, he was able to find what he needed and that he was at peace in his heart and mind.”
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