Six months ago authorities found the bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, 41, Ellen Chung, 31, and Aurelia “Miju” Chung-Gerrish, 1, and the family’s dog on a Sierra National Forest trail. Now, police have now discovered new details that help them better understand the timeline of their untimely deaths.
On August 17, 2021, park officials located the family on the side of a trail near the Merced River. At the time, it was unclear what had caused the family to pass away so suddenly. Initially, investigators looked into all possibilities, including possible water contamination and gas leaks from local mines. However, following the autopsy, they’ve discovered that the real cause was overheating and extreme dehydration.
Police now have records of the family’s final phone calls and text messages. While trying to survive overheating and dehydration, Gerrish tried to send out a text message.
“Can you help us,” the Sierra National Forest hiker typed on his phone.
He also added, “No water or ver (over) heating with baby.”
Unfortunately, though, there was little cell reception in that area and the text never reached its recipient. The parents also tried calling family members five times, but all were unsuccessful.
Gerrish and His Family Faced Dangerous Conditions Before Death
According to the official report, the temperature that day reached 109 degrees. With little shade, no water, and more than a mile to their vehicles, their chances of survival were slim.
Once news broke of the family’s death, relatives gave the sheriff’s department a statement to read.
“The loss of a close relative is a pain almost beyond words. When that loss is multiplied by four — and one of that four is a baby of just one years old — then that pain is indescribable,” the family said. “Some questions have been answered and we will use this information as a way of helping us come to terms with the situation.”
Survivalist Weighs in on Sierra National Forest Deaths
As investigators began to release more information about the case, outdoor experts decided to add their thoughts on the tragedy. One of these professionals was an anonymous Survivalist who spoke to the Chronicle about the circumstances on that Sierra National Forest trail.
“Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other,” the Survivalist stated. “It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill,” the trainer wrote. “When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones. It is a tragedy of the highest order.”