Manhunt for man who assaulted, stabbed woman in Smokies

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A manhunt is still underway for the man who sexually assaulted and stabbed a woman on the Gatlinburg Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park late Friday afternoon.

Authorities reopened Sugarlands Visitor Center and a stretch of U.S. 441 that were closed following the attacks, saying there is no indication that the suspect is still in the area. The Gatlinburg Trail was closed until late Friday night, while police investigated the scene of the crime.

Authorities said the attack occurred around 3:00 p.m. Friday afternoon. The 44 year-old woman suffered multiple stab wounds and was flown to UT Medical Center in stable condition. She said she did not know the attacker.

"It is extremely uncommon. However, it is important to point out bad things can happen in national parks," said the Park's Supervising Ranger, Kent Cave.

Park Rangers guarded the access points to the trail, which was closed during their initial search.

Despite the stabbing and assault, the park did stay open to the thousands of visitors stopping by to camp, see the fireflies, or picnic.

Tom Mathews drives his family down from Indiana every year to stay in the Smokies, and was shocked to hear about the attack.

"That's quite a surprise. Because all the time that we've been backpacking here, we've never had a hint of trouble. We've spent a lot of time on the back trails where there is no help, and it's always been great," said Mathews.

Rangers say the best ways to try and stay safe are to notify someone where you are going, be aware of your surroundings, and to stay with a buddy.

"I someone was gonna try to do something against us, they'd have to try to fight the four of us. So I'm really not worried about that," said Mathews.

The suspect is described as a white male, around 5'7", with a thin build, a crew cut and a thin mustache, in his 40's, with black dress pants and a t-shirt.

Ranger Cave says he believes this was an isolated incident.

Anyone with information should contact the Park's dispatchers at 865-436-1230.

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