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Family's Bodies Found on Remote US Hiking Trail; Area Closed Due to 'Unknown Hazards'

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No signs of trauma, no suicide note and, so far, no conclusive autopsy results.

“Bizarre” is how a spokesperson in a Northern California sheriff’s office described the mysterious deaths of a young couple, their 1-year-old daughter and their dog, whose bodies were found Aug. 17 on a remote hiking trail in the region, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Given the mystery, Sierra National Forest officials have closed the trail the family was on until at least Sept. 26 because of “unknown hazards,” according to CBS News. Other trails and recreation areas in the region also are closed, the forest service said.

Considering the possibilities of toxic gases from mines or poisonous algae, authorities initially declared the hiking area about 20 miles north of Mariposa, California, as a hazmat site, the Chronicle said.

On Aug. 26, however, the outlet reported that authorities had ruled out mine chemicals, and the Fresno Bee said the hazmat designation was lifted the day after the family was found.

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John Gerrish, 45, and his wife, Ellen Chung, 30, moved during COVID outbreaks to Mariposa from San Francisco to provide a quieter environment to raise their daughter Miju, the Chronicle’s web presence, SFGATE.com, reported.

The family had set out on a daylong hike on Aug. 15. The sheriff’s department told the Fresno Bee the family was on a trail with no shade and temperatures from 103 to 109 degrees.

Friends became concerned when the family failed to return home, SFGATE said.

Searchers found them Aug. 17 on the Hite Cove Trail.

Will this mystery be solved soon?

“You come on scene and everyone is deceased. There’s no bullet holes, no bottle of medicine, not one clue,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told the Chronicle. “It’s a big mystery.”

Initial autopsies revealed no conclusive results about the cause, although results from toxicology tests will take weeks, Global News reported Aug. 24, and there were no suicide notes.

A necropsy was to be performed on Oski, the dog, said sheriff’s office spokesperson Kristie Mitchell, according to CNN. No other dead animals were found in the area.

In July, Sierra National Forest officials posted a Facebook warning against toxic algae in the Merced River, which flows near the Hite Cove Trail.

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The Marisopa County Sheriff’s Office isn’t considering homicide as a cause of death, Yahoo News reported.

The family’s bodies were found on a switchback about a mile below their truck, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Gerrish was seated next to his daughter and dog; Chung was a bit farther along the trail. Investigators found a small amount of water, which was sent for testing.

Truly a tragedy, the death of this young family becomes more haunting given the lack of clues about what happened.

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Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.
Mike Landry, PhD, is a retired business professor. He has been a journalist, broadcaster and church pastor. He writes from Northwest Arkansas on current events and business history.




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