On August 15th, 2021, a California family left for a summer hike on a secluded trail near their home. Unfortunately, none of them returned, and investigators have finally found what really happened. Authorities found the bodies of Jonathan Gersh, 45, and his wife, Ellen Chung, 31. They believe the couple died of hyperthermia and dehydration. With them was their one-year-old daughter Miju, and their dog Oski. Miju and Oski tragically also did not survive the deadly heat.
Mystery surrounded the terrible day and lost lives. Investigators ruled out the possibility of murder, suicide, drugs, and even a lightning strike. With no clear answer in sight, this stumped investigators. There were no signs of trauma to the bodies and no clear indicators of foul play.
Eventually, investigators decide that the events leading up to the families’ deaths were simply a few misguided judgments and a lot of unfortunate circumstances. In a 77 page report obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, investigators share they believe it was the couple seeking help for their infant that contributed to their demise.
Survival Expert Weighs In on Sierra National Forest Tragedy
As reported by the Chronicle, a Survivalist conferred with detectives about the likelihood of what happened via email. The survival trainer wrote, “Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other…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.”
Among the unfortunate circumstances contributing to the tragedy was lack of shade. Despite the fact that the couple had plenty of experience as hikers, California wildfires changed the terrain. The area the couple hiked that August day lacked shade against the sun. Wildfires depleted much of the vegetation on the trail, causing the lack of shade. Additionally, the family only had 85 ounces of water with them. Investigators say there were no signs of the family drinking from a nearby river, either. Temperatures rose as the elevation increased on the hike. The family found themselves in a deadly situation of no shade, no water, and scarily high temperatures.
A Painful Loss
The family was found two days after they left for their trek, and one day after they were reported missing. The report came when Gerrish missed logging on for his recently-acquired job at Snapchat. Gerrish previously worked for Google as a software engineer. Chung was studying to be a therapist and also worked as a yoga instructor.
In a statement read by a sheriff’s office representative in an October press conference, relatives share their grief. The statement reads, “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. However, the question of why can never be answered and will remain with us.”