More questions than answers after autopsy of California family found dead on hiking trail


An initial autopsy revealed some clues to the mystery of what happened to a California family found dead on a hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest south of Yosemite.

John Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their 1-year-old daughter Miju – as well as their family dog ​​- were found dead in the Devil’s Gulch area at the fork south of the Merced River in the Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office you say. Responding agencies treated the scene as a hazmat situation due to their uncertainty about the cause of death.

Mariposa County’s Coroner’s Office could only rule out acute trauma, such as stab wounds, bullet wounds or blunt-force injuries. Toxicology results are expected in two to three weeks. An autopsy was also being performed on the dog.

Investigators say the deaths did not appear intentional, and they did not find a suicide note or any signs of premeditation.

Deputy Kristie Mitchell told media that it could be a “carbon monoxide situation” or possibly gas escaping from an old mine. The Fresno Bee also reported that “exposure to toxic algae“could be a possibility of death. Last month, Forest service warns on Facebook that people should avoid drinking or swimming in the Merced River due to the presence of toxic algae; Unhealthy algae blooms are not uncommon in hot months in California bodies of water.

A remote canyon area northeast of the city of Mariposa, seen on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is reported to be the area where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said.

A remote canyon area northeast of the city of Mariposa, seen on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is reported to be the area where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said.

Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

“This is just a tragic, frustrating case for us,” Mitchell told CNN. “It will probably be a long, tedious investigation.”

The family moved to Mariposa from San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic when Gerrish was presented with an opportunity to work remotely for good, the Bee reported. Gerrish was a software engineer at Snapchat; Chung was in graduate school to become a family and marriage therapist. The two wanted to raise Miju in a “quiet, slow-setting” surrounded by nature, in an environment unlike the bustle of San Francisco.

Prior to moving to Mariposa, both were hungry concerts and festivalgoers; social media posts dating from 2017 show Gerrish and Chung at shows with large groups of friends.

The family’s Sunday trip was designed for just a day trip, which raised concerns from several family friends when they were not back home.

A helicopter planes over a remote area northeast of the city of Mariposa, California, on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. According to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the area is reported to be where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday.

A helicopter planes over a remote area northeast of the city of Mariposa, California, on Wednesday, August 18, 2021. According to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the area is reported to be where a family and dogs were found dead on Tuesday.

Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

Steven Jeffe, a family friend, used the phrase “bizarre and strange” to describe his friend’s death.

“We’re all just devastated,” Jeffe told the Bee. “People really loved them. A super generous, sweet and loving couple who were devoted to their daughters. “


The California Department of Justice and sheriff’s office workers are investigating the deaths. Their death is being handled as a hazmat and coroner investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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