When John Gerrish and his family went hiking the weekend of August 15, they decided to try the 8.5-mile Hite Cove in California’s Sierra National Forest. Unfortunately, the couple didn’t come home, and a family friend reported them missing on Monday, August 23 to authorities.
After the parents had not shown up for work, the friend grew concerned that something had happened to the family. Police found the bodies of Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, 1-year-old daughter Muji and their golden retriever. The family had been near the Devil’s Gulch area in the South Fork of the Merced drainage.
Initially, when authorities arrived on the scene, they treated the investigation as a HAZMAT situation. Sheriff’s Deputy Kristie Mitchell reported to the Fresno Bee that mines in the area could possibly have caused a lethal gas leak.
“We’re processing the scene right now. There’s no clear indication of cause of death,” Mitchell said during the first stages of the investigation. “Coming across a scene where everyone involved. Including the family dog that is deceased. That is not a typical thing that we have seen or other agencies have seen.”
However, upon further analysis, the investigation team ruled that gas leaks did not cause the California family’s death while hiking. The team detected no toxic levels of carbon monoxide from the surrounding mines. On August 21, three days after finding the bodies, police then began treating the investigation as a homicide. There weren’t any wounds that pointed towards this cause of death. But there was also no other obvious evidence that explained why the family died.
“I’ve been here for 20 years. And I’ve never seen a death-related case like this,” County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told The Times. “There’s no obvious indicators of how it occurred.”
Investigation of California Hiking Family’s Death Continues without Answers
Several days after ruling out the possibility of a gas leak, police also negated homicide. While this may offer some comfort to the loved ones of the California hiking family, this also means that there is not much new information in the case. Still, investigators continue to dig deeper into the bizarre and tragic discovery and found that on August 14, Gerrish looked up the trail on his phone.
Police also released that they found the father in a seated position beside his one-year-old daughter and eight-year-old golden retriever, while the mother was further up the trail. According to TooFab, because the area had seen wildfires within the past few years, the National Forest offered little shade from the 103- to 108-degree day.
Authorities are now awaiting the results of a toxicology screening to see if green algae had a role in the deaths of the family on the California hiking trail.