Family found dead on hiking trail: Toxic algae blooms seen in death of Ellen Chung, John Gerrish, baby Miju, dog
The area of the Sierra National Forest where the bodies were found on Tuesday had been treated as a hazardous materials site after concerns were raised over deaths linked to potentially toxic gases from nearby old mines.
But the hazardous materials declaration was lifted on Wednesday, and Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said he didn’t believe mines were a factor, the Fresno Bee reported Thursday.
“This is a very unusual and unique situation,” said Kristie Mitchell, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office. “There was no sign of trauma, no obvious cause of death. There was no suicide note.”
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 their disappearance Monday evening.
The area around Hite’s Cove was the site of a hard rock gold mining operation in the mid-19th century.
The bodies were taken to the Mariposa coroner’s office for autopsies and toxicology exams, Mitchell said.
The state’s Water Resources Control Board said Thursday it was testing the region’s waterways for any toxic algal blooms.
The couple were known to be avid hikers. Their friend, Mariposa’s real estate agent, Sidney Radanovich, said Gerrish was a San Francisco-based software designer who, along with his wife, “fell in love with the Mariposa area” and bought several homes there, one residence for themselves and rental investments.
“They were such a loving couple. They loved each other a little bit,” Radanovich told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He liked to show the baby all kinds of things and explain them to him.”
The sheriff’s office was investigating the deaths with the California Department of Justice.
Sheriff Jeremy Briese said chaplains and staff are counseling family members.
“My heart is breaking for their family,” he said.
The remote area where the bodies were found did not have mobile phone service, Mitchell said. The hiking trail crossed an area of forest known especially in spring for its spectacular wild flowers.
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