New information has been revealed surrounding the deaths of a California family on a hiking trail earlier this year. Ellen Chung, 31, Jonathan Gerrish, 45, their daughter Miju, 1, and their dog were found dead along a hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest on August 17.
Family Died Due To ‘Heat Exposure And Lack Of Water’
In October, it was announced by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office that the family died from hyperthermia and probable dehydration. According to records released to The San Francisco Chronicle, investigators say, “All the evidence kept pointing back to heat exposure and lack of water.”
In The Chronicle’s new report, it was reported that the temperature was 76 degrees early in the day but peaked at 109. Investigators said ground temperatures would probably have been higher due to the lack of shade from trees that were destroyed during the 2018 Ferguson wildfire.
On August 15, the alleged day of the hike, a woman walking her dogs saw the family’s car parked at the trailhead, which was just a few miles from their home. The family wasn’t reported missing until the following day, after their babysitter found their home empty. The Chronicle’s report states that she was the last person to see the family alive after cleaning their house on the afternoon of August 13.
After arriving at the residence and noticing that the couple had left their wallets, most of their cellphones, and a diaper bag, she called the building’s construction manager. The two sent out calls and texts, but were not initially worried. They called the sheriff at 11 P.M. – 12 hours after the babysitter arrived at the empty house.
A search was initiated and the bodies of Gerrish, Miju, and the family dog were found roughly 1.6 miles below the trailhead. Chung was found about an hour later after a deputy noticed “some disturbed dirt on the uphill side of the trail that appeared that something or someone had tried to go up the hill,” according to the report. She was found about 13 ft. higher than her family.
After searching Chung’s backpack, investigators found two empty sippy cups and a 2.5 liter water bladder, which detectives said had only a “few remaining drops” of water left inside. There is no evidence of foul play, but investigators are still trying to access a cell phone found in the pocket of Gerrish’s shorts.
They Were ‘Completely Unaware Of The Dangers’
One U.S. Forest Service volunteer told a deputy the family appeared “completely unaware of the dangers” they faced, according to The Chronicle. Another Forest Service employee familiar with the trail also told investigators that locals typically “stay clear” of it in the summer. An expert interviewed by detectives suggested the family had overheated, causing their brains and organs to shut down. In October, Sheriff Jeremy Briese told reporters, “This is the first hyperthermia cause of death that I’ve witnessed here in 20 years.”
In a statement released by Gerrish and Chung’s relatives, they said, “Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of John, Ellen, Miju and of course, Oski [family’s dog]. They will remain with us wherever we are and whatever we do.”
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