Investigators and the public were shocked by the death of an entire family during a hike in the Sierra National Forest in August. The mysterious and tragic deaths led to many people guessing at what could have caused it, including the possibility of toxic algae poisoning from a nearby waterway. Now, investigators believe they know what happened in the tragic incident.
The Mariposa County Sheriff has revealed they believe the deaths were from a combination of hyperthermia and dehydration.
Jonathan Gerrish and Ellen Chung had gone for a hike with their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and the family dog, Oski, on the Hites Cove Trail near the Merced River when they were all found dead on August 17, 2021. After being reported missing by friends, authorities located them approximately 1.5 miles from their car on steep switchbacks. An empty 85-ounce water bladderÂ and a bottle that contained baby formula were found by the bodies.
According to officials, it was a rare event highlighting the dangers of hiking in extreme heat. The hypothermia, otherwise know as “heat stroke,” was due to temperatures reaching 109 degrees.
“This is a real tragedy,” Mariposa County Sheriff-Coroner Jeremy Briese said at a press conference. “An unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather.”
According to friends of the family, they were experienced hikers that had recently moved to the town of Mariposa from San Francisco. The investigation had moved in many different directions as officials attempted to make sense of the mysterious deaths of all three people and the dog. Included in the theories were lightning strikes, exposure to toxic gas, suicide and ingestion of toxic algae. In the end, it was simply heat stroke that caused the tragic event.
“Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju and of course, Oski,” read a statement released by the Mariposa County Sheriff. “They will remain with us wherever we go and in whatever we do. In the future, when we sit beneath the trees listening to the wind soaring through the branches, we will hear them and we will remember.”