California family’s mysterious hiking deaths investigated; toxic algae blooms considered

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Investigators are probing the deaths of a Northern California couple, their baby and the family dog after their bodies were found on a remote hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest on Tuesday.

“This is a very unusual, unique situation,” said Kristie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office. “There were no signs of trauma, no obvious cause of death. There was no suicide note.”

Officials considered whether nearby abandoned mines had released toxic gases and a hazmat situation was declared on Tuesday. Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said he didn’t think the mines were a factor and the declaration was lifted on Wednesday. 

“We don’t know the cause,” he added. “We won’t rest until we figure it out.” He said the bodies were found around three miles away from the only mine he knows of in the area, according to the Sacramento Bee, adding that investigators continue to search for any other potential causes. 

A helicopter hovers over a remote area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. According to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the area is reported to be where a family and their dog were found dead on Tuesday. Investigators are considering whether toxic algae blooms or other hazards may have contributed to the deaths of the Northern California couple, their baby and the family dog on a remote hiking trail, authorities said. (Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP)

John Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were all found dead on a hiking trail near Hite’s Cove in the Sierra National Forest. A family friend had reported them missing Monday evening after they didn’t return from their one-day hiking trip on Sunday and Gerrish missed work as a software engineer. 

Their bodies were airlifted to the coroner’s office in Mariposa for autopsies and toxicology exams, Mitchell said.

The State Water Resources Control Board said Thursday it was testing waterways in the area for any toxic algae blooms.

The family had reportedly moved from San Francisco to the more remote Mariposa when Gerrish started working remotely to enjoy nature more, according to the Bee.

The remote area where the bodies were found had no cellphone service, Mitchell said.

The family was about a mile and a half from their truck, the Bee reported. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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