By The Associated Press
GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Authorities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park say a 44-year-old woman was stabbed and assaulted by a man while hiking on a trail, but rangers believe the man has fled the area.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that the woman was walking Friday along the two-mile Gatlinburg Trial that runs from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the town of Gatlinburg.
“The woman does report being sexually assaulted before being stabbed,” said Kent Cave, supervisory park ranger.
The victim, whose name was not released, was airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center where she was in stable condition, according to a news release from the park.
“We believe this was an isolated incident,” Chief Ranger Clay Jordan said in the news release. “Rangers have combed the area and believe the suspected has fled the area.”
The suspect was described as a white male, 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a crew cut and a mustache. He is believed to be in his 40s and has multiple tattoos.
Authorities shut down the trail as they searched for the suspect and clues, but the trail has been reopened. Park officials said an incident like this is rare for the park especially with the tourist season in full swing.
“Things like this don’t happen every day. It is definitely a rare incident,” Melissa Cobern with the Public Affairs Office of the National Park Service said.
Still Cobern said rangers advise visitors to be aware of their surroundings while in the park.
“We tell people to exercise situational awareness and be aware of what’s going on around you. Let someone know where you are hiking, when you’ll be back and take someone with you,” she said.