What to Know About the Gerrish Family Who Mysteriously Died on Hiking Trail in California
John Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their 1-year-old daughter Miju were found dead alongside their family dog in the Sierra National Forest on Aug. 17
Digital News Writer, PEOPLE
Over two months after a California family was mysteriously found dead with their dog along a hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest, their friends and loved ones finally have some answers.
In a press conference on Thursday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced that John Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their 1-year-old daughter Miju died of hyperthermia and probable dehydration. Their 8-year-old dog Oski also suffered a heat-related death, police said.
Here is how an investigation into their deaths unfolded.
A family friend said they had recently relocated to be closer to nature.
During the pandemic, Gerrish and Chung had moved about 160 miles from their home in San Francisco to Central California, family friend Steve Jeffe told The Fresno Bee shortly after their bodies were found.
The couple made the move after Gerrish, a Silicon Valley software engineer, began working from home, Jeffe said. They wished to raise Miju away from a major city and hoped to trade in the bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area for the calm of nature, he explained.
“We’re all just devastated,” Jeff told the outlet. “They were really beloved by the people. A super generous, sweet and loving couple that was devoted to their daughter.”
Gerrish was originally from England, while Chung worked as a yoga instructor before becoming pregnant with their daughter, per the Merced Sun-Star.
The family was reported missing on Aug. 16 after embarking on a hiking trip.
The couple and their daughter were reported missing on Monday, Aug. 16 by their nanny, who arrived at the family’s home and found no one there, Jeffe told The Bee. The family had left for a hiking trip the day prior.
“You had to figure it wasn’t an overnight hike, because it’s been hot and they had the baby with them,” Jeffe told The Bee. “Jon was supposed to work Monday and never showed up. That raised more concerns.”
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE‘s free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.
By Tuesday morning, the family was found dead. The Mariposa County Sheriff said the area where their bodies were discovered did “not indicate a clear picture of what occurred.”
Officials said Gerrish was discovered in a seated position with Miju and Oski near him, according to The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Chung was found a ways away from them up a hill, the outlet reported.
Authorities spent two months ruling out numerous causes of death.
At the time that their bodies were found, the sheriff’s office said the situation was “currently being handled as a hazmat and coroner investigation.”
Over the next month, authorities worked to rule out numerous causes of death. The family and their dog reportedly did not have any physical wounds or signs of trauma on their bodies, leading the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office to initially rule out exposure to chemicals and use of a gun or another deadly weapon as potential causes of death.
In September, officials announced that all public areas along the Merced River between the towns of Briceburg and Bagby would be closed until at least Sept. 17 “in response to the presence of toxic algal blooms.” The area was located downstream from where the family was first found, per the Associated Press.
Later that month, authorities ruled out six more potential causes, including suicide, lightning strike, exposure to carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, or cyanide and illegal drugs and alcohol.
The family died of hyperthermia and probable dehydration.
On Oct. 21, two months after their bodies were found, authorities released an official cause of death for the family.
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that all three family members died of hyperthermia and probable dehydration. Their 8-year-old dog Oski also suffered a heat-related death, according to police.
“For Mariposa County, this is rare,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese told reporters. “This is the first hyperthermia cause of death that I’ve witnessed here in 20 years.”
Police also ruled out that out that toxic algae played a role in the deaths, saying that they do not believe the family ingested the water in the area. During Thursday’s press conference, authorities noted how there were no filtration systems with the family, but one 85-ounce Camelbak water bottle and a bottle with formula were found near the site.
The water inside those bottles was tested but came back with no toxins and appeared to be clean or tap water, according to police.
Relatives said they feel “indescribable” pain over the loss.
On Thursday, Mariposa Public Information Officer issued a statement from Gerrish and Chung’s relatives that read: “The loss of a close relative is pain almost beyond words. When that loss is multiplied by four, and one of those losses is a baby, that pain is indescribable.”
The couple’s family went on to explain that “the lack of knowledge and certainty as reasons for the death” led them to frequently question the circumstances of the death for “all of the days and all of the nights.”
“Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of John, Ellen, Miju and of course, Oski,” the statement concluded. “They will remain with us wherever we are and whatever we do.”
Northern California family found on hiking trail died of extreme heat
Thanks for contacting us. We’ve received your submission.
More On: deaths
Palestinian officials say house fire in Gaza Strip kills 21
Russian colonel tied to mobilization dies mysteriously
2-year-old New York boy starved to death after dad died of heart condition
Decomposed bodies of elderly woman and her son found in NYC apartment
The Northern California family of three found dead on a remote Sierra National Forest hiking trail over the summer died of extreme heat as temperatures soared to 109 degrees, authorities said this week.
Jonathan Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old daughter, Aurelia “Miju” Chung-Gerris, died of hyperthermia — which occurs when a person’s body temperature is dangerously high after exposure to hot, humid weather, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said Thursday.
Their dog, Oski — an 8-year-old Australian shepherd and Akita mix — also died on the trail. Oski’s exact cause of death is unclear, but Briese said evidence indicates the dog was “possibly suffering from heat-related issues.”
“This is an unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather,” Briese said.
Multiple other factors — including murder, lightning strikes, poisoning, illegal drugs and suicide — were investigated and ruled out.
The family set out around 8 a.m. Aug. 15, when temperatures sat around 74 degrees, according to Briese.
John Gerrish, an experienced hiker, died with his wife, Ellen Chung. Instagram
But by the time they reached the steep uphill portion of the hike known as the Savage Lundy Trail, temperatures reached a scorching 109.
The family’s relatives reported them missing — and authorities found them two days later.
The family and their dog were reportedly found dead in this remote canyon area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif. Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP, File
Gerrish, 45, was an experienced hiker who used an app on his phone to plot a route along the Hite Cove Trail, a loop that runs about 8 miles, hugging the south fork of the Merced River, Briese said.
But shade was minimal on the trail, where many of the trees had been destroyed in a wildfire three years ago.
The family set out around 8 a.m. Aug. 15, when temperatures sat around 74 degrees, according to Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese. Instagram
The family had an empty 85-ounce water container with them, investigators found.
Tests of the water in the Merced River indicated it was contaminated with Anatoxin A, a lethal toxin produced by blue-green algae — prompting the Bureau of Land Management to close campgrounds and recreation areas along a 28-mile swath of the river.
But Briese said Thursday there is no indication that the family drank any of the water.
Multiple other factors — including murder, lightning strikes, poisoning, illegal drugs and suicide — were investigated and ruled out. Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP
The FBI is “making good progress” in attempting to unlock one of the adults’ cellphones, in an attempt to find “more answers about that day,” Briese said.
Unnamed family members issued a statement following the determination of the family’s cause of death.
“Some questions have been answered, and we will use this information as a way of helping us come to terms with the situation,” the relatives said in the statement, read by Kristie Mitchell, the public information officer for the sheriff’s office. “Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju, and, of course, Oski. They will remain with us wherever we go.”
A helicopter hovers over a remote area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif. Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP
Authorities Have Yet to Rule Out at Least Two Possible Causes of Death for Family Found Dead Near Yosemite
UPDATE: OCTOBER 1 — Authorities have yet to determine what caused the death of a family and their dog during a hiking excursion in the Sierra National Forest in mid-August, but this week they announced they’ve ruled out several more potential causes.
Back on August 27, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Department announced that weapons and chemical hazards had been ruled out as having caused the demise of Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, their 1-year-old daughter, Aurelia Miju Chung-Gerrish, and their dog, Oski, whose bodies were found near Hite’s Cove in the Sierra National Forest on August 17. This week, they added several more to the list: lightning strikes, carbon monoxide or dioxide poisoning, exposure to cyanide, illegal drug, or alcohol consumption and suicide.
As the SF Gate points out, one potential cause of death hasn’t been ruled out: a toxic algae bloom. As they report, “Testing conducted earlier this month confirmed that the nearby Merced River had high levels of toxic algae,” but experts have said that sort of poisoning would be difficult to pin down. Authorities also haven’t ruled out extreme heat.
“We respect and understand the need for information and details regarding this case. Our current priorities remain supporting and informing the Gerrish / Chung family during this tragic time,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement published by SF Gate. “As we navigate through this investigation with the family, we will later share our findings with the public.”
AUGUST 27, 2021 — Ten days after the bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, their 1-year-old daughter, Aurelia Miju Chung-Gerrish, and their dog, Oski, were found near Hite’s Cove in the Sierra National Forest on August 17, investigators still don’t know how they died, but on Thursday the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office released what new details they have uncovered.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, the Sheriff’s Office says it has “ruled out” weapons or “chemical hazards” along the Savage-Lundy Trail where the family was discovered as possible causes of death, but emphasized that, “ALL other potential causes of death remain.”
Although preliminary autopsy results revealed no clues, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell said Thursday, “The pathologist currently is issuing an autopsy finding of ‘pending toxicology.’”
The police have not said what toxins they are looking for, and the toxicology tests have not been completed. Samples from a necropsy performed on Oski, an eight-year-old Aussie-Akita mix, have been sent to several labs as well.
Water samples from the Merced River near where the Chung-Gerrish family were found were sent to labs for testing on August 19 because there was a known toxic algae bloom in the area. Additional water samples from “along the trail” nearby were collected on Monday. The water the family carried with them is also being tested.
The samples have been sent to the California State Water Resources Board along with independent labs for testing, and Mitchell said the department is getting “further assistance for additional testing” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
Additionally, the sheriff’s office said that the 2018 Ferguson Fire had turned five miles of the 8.5-mile Savage-Lundy Trail loop into a “steep southern exposure path with little-to-no trees or shade.” Temperatures in the area between 11:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. on August 15, when the family is believed to have been hiking there, ranged from 103 to 109, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The area where the bodies were discovered was initially treated as a hazmat situation due to fears of noxious gasses coming from old gold mines, but the precaution was lifted the following day and Sheriff Jeremy Briese said Thursday that the mines were not near the victims.
The sheriff’s office plans to provide another update when the toxicology reports are complete, but said “there is no current timeframe for that,” and Mitchell warned last week that such testing can take six weeks or more.
“Cases like this require us to be methodical and thorough,” Briese said, “while also reaching out to every resource we can find to help us bring those answers to them as quickly as we can.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.
RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR
Nobody Knows What Happened to Family and Dog Found Dead on Hike Near Yosemite
Be an L.A. Insider
Los Angeles has covered the people, food, culture, arts and entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, and news that define Southern California since 1961.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.