Do hikers need to pack heat when venturing into the wilderness? I raise this question after reading about several violent acts in the wilderness within the last year. Allow me to list a few of these in chronological order:
* The FBI continues to search for the person(s) who murdered Scott Lilly on the Appalachian Trail in central Virginia. His “partially buried” body was found on August 12th of last year. The FBI recently announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
* Last August, during a violent rampage, an Indiana man stabbed and killed a 76-year-old assistant Boy Scout leader while hiking with three others on a rail trail near Bunker Hill, IN.
* On September 25th, 2011, a female driving in the Nantahala National Forest stopped to render aid to a person she believed was incapacitated, while lying beside the road. At that time a firearm was used to subdue the victim, and then she was forcibly raped. As far as I know this case has not been solved.
* Last October an avid hiker was found dead on a trail in the San Luis Obispo area with severe trauma to his head and face - presumably murdered.
* Back in March there was the highly publicised case of two men disappearing in the Smokies - five days apart - without a trace. In both cases, officials dealt with conflicting clues and details. Did they commit suicide? Did they try to disappear without a trace? Were the two incidents in anyway connected - by someone who possibly kidnapped them and/or murdered them? No other clues in the two cases have emerged.
* Perhaps one of the most shocking incidents I've seen related to this subject is learning of two teenagers who were arrested in Utah this past April, after constructing booby traps on a popular trail near Provo.
* The most recent incident, which happened within the past week, and prompted this posting, was this:
It was a little before midnight Monday when Hensley said Unicoi County 911 received a call stating an individual was holding several hikers hostage at the Beauty Spot lookout on Unaka Mountain. Hensley, who took the call, said the caller stated the man had approached the group of five hikers with a handgun drawn, told them that he was a game warden, and ordered them to get down on their hands and knees. The 911 call, Hensley said, came from one of the hikers allegedly being taken hostage.
Two of the hostages happened to be U.S. Coast Guard officers, who were able to take the gun away, and then proceeded to hogtie the assailant!
In addition to these particular incidences, National Parks and the USFS have issued warnings from time to time about drug traffickers using parks to transport drugs, set-up meth labs, and even cultivate marijuana within park boundaries.
So in the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye: What's going on? Are these isolated incidences, or is there a trend we need to be aware of? Other than hiking in groups, taking self-defense classes, what else can hikers do to protect themselves while out on the trail?