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A year later, Craggy Gardens sexual assault case still open

It's now been nearly a year since a woman was found tied to a tree just south of Craggy Gardens. There were few details in the beginning about what actually happened, and 356 days later, the case is still open. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

It's now been nearly a year since a woman was found tied to a tree just south of Craggy Gardens. Later, authorities said she had been sexually assaulted.

There were few details in the beginning about what actually happened, and 356 days later, the case is still open. The special agent in charge of the investigation says they are still waiting for the FBI lab to process some of the evidence and tips are drying up.

It's obvious from the views at Craggy Pinnacle why it's such a popular area.

"Absolutely beautiful," said one hiker.

At the picnic area you'll see a warning about bears, but you'll no longer see a sketch of the sexual assault suspect.

News 13 informed several out-of-state hikers about what happened May 12, 2016.

"I was surprised to hear that," one hiker said.

"That was disconcerting to hear," another said.

"We don't have anything new right now," Blue Ridge Parkway Chief Ranger Neal Labrie said of the sexual assault case.

The day after the assault was first reported, News 13 learned how the woman was found.

"She's not deceased at this time, but she is tied to a tree. This is the one we've been looking for," a Reems Creek Firefighter over radio traffic said.

The National Park Service then announced it was looking for a "possible suspect" for a "possible assault."

"We used those words carefully because there were a lot of questions on the front end," Labrie said of that announcement a year ago. " The victim was not in a condition that we could speak with real well. It took a couple of weeks. In fact, that's also why the sketch took a couple weeks, because the victim just wasn't ready to talk about those details."

Eleven days after the woman was found, the Park Service put out a sketch of an assault suspect. As it still does today, the crime scared hikers at the time. Tips poured in, but officials didn't release what happened to the woman until June 1, 2016. That's when NPS confirmed the woman was sexually assaulted.

Labrie called this case an isolated crime.

"There were no other incidents that occurred like that on the Blue Ridge Parkway in recent history at all," he said.

The special agent investigating the case said it's the first sexual assault on the Parkway he knows of. He did investigate a sexual assault in 2012 in the Great Smoky Mountain National Parks, which took nearly two years to solve.

If you hike alone, you're advised to bring a cell phone and to let somebody know where you're going and when you should be back. It's also best to only hike alone in more popular areas.

If you recognize the assault suspect's sketch, you can call the tip line at 888-653-0009.

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