This shocking and sad case is finally closed.
The bodies of John Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter Muji and even their family’s golden retriever were found dead on a hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest – for no apparent reason.
The families, who were reported missing on Monday, 16 August after not returning from Sunday’s hike, were found together in the open, with nothing but physical trauma, drugs, suicide, animal attacks. They were just dead. The area – a trail leading to Haight Cove near Devil’s Gulch – was regarded as a dangerous sight as the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office scrambled to find a cause. Miles of campgrounds and recreation areas along the Merced River were closed in case of lethal environmental factors in the water.
In the following weeks everything from carbon monoxide poisoning to old gold mines to toxic algae blooms near water to lightning from a distant storm were thrown out as possible solutions. But one after the other every possible cause was ruled out.
But 65 days after the family of three were found, after countless toxicology tests, officials finally settled on the cause of death: hyperthermia (heatstroke) and possible dehydration. The dog, Oski, is also believed to have died of a heat-related death as it had been with the family.
In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Bryce explained that the extreme heat exhaustion was due to extreme temperatures in the area. Temperatures were 74 to 76 degrees Sunday morning when they began their hike – but as they walked for miles, it got hotter and hotter. They were exposed to a steep ascent with almost no shadow in the last leg of their journey, in which they were exposed to direct sunlight; The sheriff said he estimated the temperature on that part of the mark at that time of day was “between 107 and 109 degrees.” In all likelihood what seemed like an easy hike turned out to be too much for even outside amateurs like Jonathan and Ellen to handle.
Breeze notes that the family had just one water container on their person, an 85-ounce water CamelBak bladder, and it was completely empty. So it seems they were not prepared for such intense exposure. The sheriff told reporters that there is no cell phone reception in the area. At the time of his death, the family was only 1.6 miles from his vehicle.
In the end, Breeze called the incident “an unfortunate and tragic event caused by the weather”. On how they finally came to their conclusion, he said:
“Once we were able to establish the timeline, once we were able to establish the confirmed weather, and also the terrain and the lack of shade and lack of water, once we got all that together with the autopsy reports, it all pretty much clicked together.”
Such a long, drawn out mystery with such a simple solution. Of course, that doesn’t make it easy to take. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of the family.
Watch the full press conference (below):