New Details Surface Regarding Deaths of Family Hiking in Sierra National Forest

by Liz Holland
(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

New details are surfacing about the deaths of a family hiking Sierra National Forest in August. The family was found dead just two days after they left for their hike. However, answers about what happened came very slowly. In a recent report by the San Francisco Chronicle, new details surrounding the events that led up to the families’ tragic demise grab the attention of those following the case. The 77-page report shared with the publication under California public record laws provides insight into what investigators found. 

On August 17th, Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, their 8-year-old dog Oski, and one-year-old daughter Miju, were found dead. Investigators ruled out possible causes such as a lightning strike, murder, suicide, or poisoning. None of these possibilities making sense stumped investigators. They finally revealed in October that the most likely cause of death was hyperthermia (overheating) and dehydration. The report shared with the SF Chronicle backs this, detailing “all evidence kept pointing back to heat exposure and lack of water”. A sheriff told reporters in October, “this is the first hyperthermia cause of death that I’ve witnessed here in 20 years”. 

Locals Typically ‘Steer Clear’ of the Hike in the Summer

According to a US Forest Service volunteer, most locals steer clear of the trail n the summertime. The Sierra National Forest trail lacks shade due to a wildfire in 2018. For this reason, temperatures easily soar above 100 degrees as the incline of the hike increases. One detail noted in the report is that Chung was found an hour after the bodies of her family. Evidence suggests that Chung attempted to trek up a hill. Chung was found about 13 feet above Gerrish, Oski, and Miju. According to experts, someone leaving to find help may have worsened their health, due to the extreme temperatures. The extra physical exertion may have made Chung’s physical condition worse, experts say. 

Investigators found various supplies in Chung’s backpack. Findings included a snakebite kit, two empty formula bottles, a first aid kit, teething supplies, bug spray, and an empty 2.5 LT water bottle. Additionally, found about 100 feet away from Chung’s body was a Ford key fob.

Some Questions Remain Unanswered

Investigators located a Google Pixel 4 in Gerrish’s front pocket, but are still trying to access data on the device. Deputies searched the family’s home. A warrant allowed this search on August 17. Phones found in the home contained missed messages from the days prior. However, investigators are still trying to access what may have been Gerrishs’ last messages. 

Relatives of the Chung and Gerrish family mentioned in a statement through the Mariposa Public Information Office that they initially questioned the circumstances surrounding their loved ones’ deaths. They say this was due to “the lack of knowledge and certainty as reasons for the death”. 

The families of Gerrish and Chung share in the statement that the pain they feel from this loss is indescribable. The statement concludes, “Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of John, Ellen, Miju and of course, Oski. They will remain with us wherever we are and whatever we do.”