John Gerrish and Ellen Chung’s home in Mariposa, California, US U.S, was silent on August 16, when her 1-year-old daughter’s nanny arrived. The family – including her dog, Oski – was nowhere to be found. His car was also missing. As the hours passed without a word from Gerrish or Chung, who had gone for a walk the day before, a sense of panic began to set in.
The couple’s home is near the start of the Hites Cove trail. Hours after the family was reported missing around 11 pm, police began searching the trail. The sheriff found the couple’s car parked near the entrance to the trail at around 2 am, the newspaper reported. San Francisco Chronicle.
Nine hours later and 1.5 miles from the truck, in an area known as Devil’s Gulch, a search and rescue team found Gerrish, Chung, their daughter, Miju, and the dog. They were all dead.
Gerrish was sitting with the baby and the dog beside him, according to the chronicle. Chung was a little further up the hill.
Authorities still don’t know how they died. The autopsies yielded no conclusive results about the cause, reported CNN. A toxicology report, which could take several weeks, is pending.
An autopsy is being performed on Oski the dog, but the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said no other animals were found dead nearby. “It’s so tragic and mysterious,” Steven Jeffe, a close family friend, told the Washington Post on Sunday night.
Gerrish and Chung moved from San Francisco to Mariposa in March 2020, Jeffe said. The pandemic has made the slow life seem increasingly attractive to young professionals. Gerrish was working at Snapchat and Chung was pursuing a master’s degree in family therapy, he said.
When they lived in San Francisco, the couple enjoyed DJing and clubbing, Jeffe said. But since moving to Mariposa — about a three-hour drive east of town and 40 miles from Yosemite Park — they’ve become people eager for outdoor adventures.
When police found their bodies, there were no signs of trauma, reported the Fresno Bee. There was no suicide note or indication that the deaths were intentional, according to CNN. Although temperatures reached 42°C the day the family walked, dehydration was considered unlikely because there was still water in the family’s hydration pack, reported the chronicle.
The possibility of snake bites has not been ruled out, although that cause is unlikely because there was no physical evidence of injury, the sheriff’s office told CNN.
The lack of definitive answers led researchers to imagine other, more unusual causes. Carbon monoxide poisoning from a mine or toxic algae near the Merced River are among the leading theories.
“At this point, we can’t rule out any possibilities,” said Mariposa County Sheriff’s Assistant Kristie Mitchell, according to the Fresno Bee.
About a month before the family was found dead, the US Forest Service warned that “a high concentration of algae blooms” was found in the Merced River, near Hites Cove, where Gerrish and Chung were walking. The Forest Service warned visitors not to swim or allow their pets to enjoy the water.
But human deaths reported from freshwater algal blooms are rare, reported the chronicle. David Caron, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, told the paper that while freshwater bacteria pose a threat to people and animals, it would take high concentrations to kill humans quickly.
“It’s conceivable that it’s the cause,” said Caron. “But a lot of forensic research needs to be done to link the case to the toxins.”
Mine poisoning is also a possibility. When the family was found on Tuesday, first responders treated the scene as a dangerous place because carbon monoxide may have leaked from nearby mines.
But the hazardous materials declaration was suspended on Wednesday, and the cause seems less likely, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told reporters. Fresno Bee. The closest mine Briese said he knew about was three miles from where the family was found.
“We didn’t find any old mine shafts near the area,” he added. “There are some mine shafts, but we can’t confirm that this is the cause yet.”
Meanwhile, Jeffe and the residents of Mariposa remain frustrated by the lack of answers. “We are devastated by the loss,” Jeffe told the Post. “But I think the community is more like,’ What the hell happened? ‘It’s so crazy.”