A wild hours-long incident on the slopes of Mount Sentinel Friday afternoon involving "multiple crime scenes," seriously injured victims, dozens of law enforcement personnel and a Life Flight helicopter ended with the apprehension of a partially naked male suspect.
University of Montana spokesperson Paula Short confirmed the following narrative, but said the investigation is still underway and the suspect's name has not been released.
University of Montana Police Department, Missoula Police Department and other agency officers swarmed Mount Sentinel just east of the University of Montana campus in the early afternoon after a woman was allegedly physically assaulted and injured near the popular "M" trail. The university sent out an alert warning of a white male suspect, age 30-40 years, dressed in a black shirt and black pants fleeing uphill.
A couple of hours later, police responded to a report near the summit of Mount Sentinel that a group of hikers had been attacked, and somebody in that group had apparently stabbed the suspect. The suspect in both altercations was by then apparently sitting on the ground naked, and a hiker gave him a sweater to wear.
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A Life Flight helicopter landed on the mountain and the suspect was evacuated via helicopter to Providence St. Patrick Hospital. Police officers warned that the woman who was originally attacked was also at St. Patrick Hospital and asked that the suspect not be treated near her room.
At least two other hikers were apparently attacked by the suspect and needed medical attention. One had a head wound and could be seen with bandages around his head, and another person complained of back pain after the suspect allegedly threw a rock at him.
"At about 2:30 p.m. this afternoon the call came in to 911 and UMPD about what was originally reported as an injured hiker on the north trail on Mount Sentinel," explained UM spokesperson Paula Short. "That call quickly turned into a report of an alleged assault on the trail."
She said UM then issued a "timely warning" to tell people to stay away from the area.
"Almost immediately after our warning was issued, a hiker that was currently on the mountain reported seeing the suspect and offering some additional information for law enforcement to follow up on," she said. "As they were doing that, our understanding is this suspect proceeded across Mount Sentinel and had been behaving aggressively and encountering other hikers."
Ultimately, at about 4:30, Short said law enforcement were made aware that the suspect encountered a group of hikers and there was an altercation.
"That resulted in some injuries," she said. "I don't have a lot of information on the extent of the injuries other than to say that two people were transported. Others have injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening at this time."
She didn't have any information about any possible weapons. She said law enforcement interviewed all the hikers who came off the mountain in the afternoon. She said they believe the same suspect was involved in both the altercation with the hikers and the assault on the woman based on the physical description given in both encounters as well as the time that elapsed between the two reports.
"We are grateful that our timely warning system at the university proved fruitful both in keeping people away that might have come over to Mount Sentinel and also in this specific case in providing us valuable information about the suspect while still on the mountain from a hiker who received our timely warning on their phone while they were there," Short said. "I also want to thank our local law enforcement partners."
She said officers from the Missoula County Sheriff's Department as well as local firefighters and U.S. Forest Service personnel also showed up to help.
The suspect's condition was unknown as of 8:30 p.m. on Friday.