Officials grow ‘desperate for answers’ on California family found dead on hiking trail


John Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, and their 1-year-old daughter Miju – as well as the Oski family dogs – were found dead in the Devil’s Gulch area at the fork south of the Merced River in the Sierra National Forest , The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said. Responding agencies treated the scene as a hazmat situation due to their uncertainty about the cause of death.

In an update provided by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, investigators substantially came out another cause of death – chemical hazards on Hites Cove.

The update also sheds more insight into the timeline of events leading up to and after their deaths, including a witness witness to the day of their disappearance.

A Mariposa County deputy sheriff is standing guard over a remote area in the northeastern city of Mariposa, California, on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, near the area where a family and dogs were found dead the day before.  Investigators are considering whether toxic algae florx or other hazards may contribute to the deaths of the Northern California couple, their babies and the family dog ​​on a remote hiking trail, authorities said.

A Mariposa County deputy sheriff is standing guard over a remote area in the northeastern city of Mariposa, California, on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, near the area where a family and dogs were found dead the day before. Investigators are considering whether toxic algae florx or other hazards may contribute to the deaths of the Northern California couple, their babies and the family dog ​​on a remote hiking trail, authorities said.

Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

The timeline also revealed that a cell phone was released to the FBI for further investigation Tuesday, and a search warrant was issued for access to Chung and Gerrish social media accounts Wednesday.

Toxicological reports from any of the family members have yet to be released, and water samples from the scene with the family were sent Monday to the State Water Resources Control Board and independent laboratories, the sheriff’s office said.

Bee in Fresno reported at the time the deaths announced that “exposure to toxic algae” could be a possibility.

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 where a family and dogs were found dead.

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 where a family and dogs were found dead.

Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

Toxicology results are expected in two to three weeks.

Autopsy data revealed this weekend was only able to rule out acute trauma, such as stab wounds, bullet wounds or blunt-force trauma.

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 studying 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 hustle and bustle of San Francisco.

A remote canyon area northeast of the town of Mariposa, seen Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is the area where a family and dogs were found dead.

A remote canyon area northeast of the town of Mariposa, seen Wednesday, August 18, 2021, is the area where a family and dogs were found dead.

Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press

Before moving to Mariposa, both were hungry concerts and festival-goers; social media posts dating back to 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 returning home. The temperature at the time, according to the sheriff’s office, was from 103 to 109 degrees.


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.

“We know John and Ellen’s family and friends are desperate for answers, our Detective team is working all the time,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement.

“Cases like this require us to be methodical and thorough while also reaching out to every resource we can get to help us bring those answers to them as quickly as we can.”

SFGATE managing editor Katie Dowd contributed to this report.

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