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Suspect sought in Great Smokies assault

From Joe Sutton, CNN
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed June 13, 2012
The National Park Service released this sketch of the man who assaulted a woman on the Gatlinburg Trail on June 8.
The National Park Service released this sketch of the man who assaulted a woman on the Gatlinburg Trail on June 8.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Woman sexually assaulted, stabbed in park outside Gatlinburg
  • $5,000 reward offered; suspect described as white male in his 40s
  • Agents, rangers pore over leads in Friday's incident

(CNN) -- Authorities searched Tuesday for a man they say sexually assaulted and stabbed a lone hiker at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

The National Park Service released a sketch and offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator in Friday afternoon's assault on Gatlinburg Trail near the city of the same name.

The 44-year-old victim, who officials said did not know her attacker, managed to make her way afterward to Gatlinburg Bypass, where she flagged down a motorist, officials said.

Rangers and National Park Service special agents were working more than 50 leads received on a tip line, said Molly Schroer, spokeswoman for the park, the most visited in the nation.

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The suspect was described as a white male in his 40s, of thin build, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a dirty blond crew cut and a thin mustache. He was wearing glasses, black dress pants and a gray T-shirt. Multiple tattoos include an unknown word across his abdomen.

The hiker suffered multiple stab wounds on her neck, shoulder and hand. She was airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where she was released Sunday.

Schroer said the woman's permanent residency is in Kentucky, but she had been "temporarily" residing in the Gatlinburg area.

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"We stand committed to bringing this assailant to justice," Chief Ranger Clay Jordan said in a statement released Monday. "Working together with the assistance of the public, I am optimistic that we can solve this case."

Officials said anyone with information can call the tip line at 865-436-1580.

Schroer said nothing like this has happened recently in the park, and officials "believe that this is an isolated incident."

Ranger patrols in the area have been increased.

According to the park service, Gatlinburg Trail is frequently used by joggers, walkers and bicyclists. It travels 1.9 miles one-way from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the outskirts of Gatlinburg. It is relatively flat and runs through a forest.

The park has 800 miles of trails, and hikers should take precautions, Schroer said. "Don't hike alone, make sure someone knows what trail you are on and always be aware of your surroundings."

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