Extreme Heat Caused Family’s Death in Sierra National Forest, Authorities Say

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After a two-month effort to find retired what killed Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog, investigators pointed to 109-degree vigor and a deficiency of water.




Family Died From Extreme Heat successful Sierra National Forest, Police Say

The authorities pointed to the 109-degree vigor and a deficiency of h2o arsenic the causes of deaths for Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog.

The origin of decease for Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, Aurelia Miju Chung-Gerrish has been determined arsenic hypothermia and probable dehydration owed to the biology exposure. Oski, the dog’s origin of decease remains undetermined. Jonathan and Ellen, Miju and Oski past began the steep incline of the Savage Lundy Trail. This conception of the way is simply a southbound to southeast facing slope, exposing the way to changeless sunlight. There’s precise small shadiness on the conception of the way owed to the Ferguson Fire of 2018. The temperatures on this conception of the way were betwixt 107 and 109 degrees from the clip of 12:50 p.m. to 2:50 p.m.

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The authorities pointed to the 109-degree vigor and a deficiency of h2o arsenic the causes of deaths for Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog.CreditCredit...Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee, via Associated Press

Neil Vigdor

Oct. 21, 2021Updated 8:22 p.m. ET

A California mates and their 1-year-old girl died from effects of vigor changeable and imaginable dehydration portion hiking successful astir 110-degree temperatures successful the Sierra National Forest successful August, a sheriff said connected Thursday, solving a enigma that had confounded investigators for much than 2 months.

When hunt teams recovered the bodies of Jonathan Gerrish and Ellen Chung, on with that of their daughter, Miju, connected the greeting of Aug. 17, they had nary h2o connected them, Jeremy Briese, the Mariposa County sheriff, said during a quality conference.

Sheriff Briese said that an 85-ounce CamelBak h2o bladder that the household had been carrying was empty. Their bodies, on with that of the family’s dog, Oski, an Aussie-Akita mix, were recovered astir 1.6 miles from their vehicle, helium said.

“Heat-related deaths are highly hard to investigate,” Sheriff Briese said, adding that a multitude of authorities and national agencies spent weeks trying to find what could person led to their deaths.

“From the beginning, the Gerrish and Chung families person been our apical priority,” the sheriff said. “Our bureau received an overwhelming fig of tips, suggestions and investigative requests that were each reviewed and taken into consideration. We’re assured of our findings.”

The household had completed astir of an eight-mile way loop, but was flooded by the heat, steep terrain and a deficiency of shade, according to the sheriff, who said that temperatures had ranged from 107 to 109 degrees connected the day that they had been hiking. There was nary cellphone work for the family, who had been carrying snacks and babe formula, to telephone for help, the sheriff said.

In a connection issued connected Thursday done the sheriff’s office, the household of Ms. Chung and Mr. Gerrish thanked investigators and said that losing truthful galore loved ones was “indescribable.”

“When that symptom is past further impacted by the deficiency of cognition and certainty arsenic to the reasons for their deaths, past the questions of why, of where, of erstwhile and of how, capable your caput each of the days and each of the nights,” the household said. “Some questions person been answered and we volition usage the accusation arsenic a mode of helping america travel to presumption with the situation, nevertheless the question ‘why’ tin ne'er beryllium answered and volition stay with us.”

The circumstances that preceded the household members’ deaths had mystified investigators, who had said that determination were nary signs of trauma oregon foul play. Initial autopsy results were inconclusive. On Thursday, Sheriff Briese said that toxicology results came backmost antagonistic for drugs.

Teams successful hazmat suits had swept the country for clues, and successful an ominous step, the U.S. Forest Service closed trails and recreation sites adjacent wherever the bodies were found successful precocious August, 12 days aft the household had archetypal been reported missing.

Investigators adjacent checked a excavation astir 2 miles distant to spot if the mates mightiness person ventured successful determination — they had not, the sheriff said.

Mr. Gerrish, 45, had worked arsenic a bundle technologist for Google, according to his LinkedIn profile. Most recently, helium had worked for Snapchat, according to Steven Jeffe, a person and neighbour successful Mariposa, Calif. Ms. Chung, 30, was raised successful Southern California, Mr. Jeffe said successful an interrogation successful September.


Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and the household  dog, Oski, were each  recovered  dormant   connected  Aug. 17. The authorities, fearing an biology  hazard arsenic  they investigated what led to the deaths, closed trails adjacent   wherever  the bodies were found.
Credit...via Steven Jeffe

Warnings of perchance toxic algae blooms successful the country wherever the family’s bodies wherever recovered fueled speculation that they whitethorn person been poisoned. On Aug. 19, the California State Water Resources Control Board urged the nationalist to “stay distant from algae and scum successful the water” adjacent the southbound fork of the Merced River successful the Sierra National Forest.

Sheriff Briese said that h2o samples taken from respective locations on the stream tested affirmative for anatoxin-a, a benignant of toxin created people by blue-green algae, but that determination was nary grounds that the household members had ingested the water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, anatoxin-a has been linked to tingling, burning, numbness, drowsiness, incoherent speech, salivation successful humans and respiratory paralysis starring to decease successful experiments involving animals.

The household was reported missing astatine 11 p.m. connected Aug. 16, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The adjacent day, hunt teams recovered the couple’s conveyance adjacent 1 of the gates to the Sierra National Forest. Their bodies were recovered a abbreviated clip aboriginal adjacent Devil Gulch.

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