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Investigative Report Finds California Hiking Couple Likely Died Trying To Save Their Baby From The Heat

A new report finds that the California couple who died on a remote hiking trail were likely trying to save their baby. A Forest Service volunteer says the couple seemed 'completely unaware of the dangers.'

By Constance Johnson
Sierra National Forest G

A new investigative report reveals the agonizing ordeal of a California couple who died on a hiking trail in Mariposa County along with their one-year-old baby and dog last year.

The report concludes that the couple likely died trying to save their baby daughter Miju in the extreme heat, and were unprepared for the demanding hiking trail.

As previously reported by Oxygen.com Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 31, and their baby died from hyperthermia and possibly dehydration while hiking in an area of the Sierra National Forest.

A professional wilderness survival expert told investigators that the baby probably got sick first and one parent stayed with the child while the other went to find help, according to the report.

“Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other,” the expert wrote to detectives, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill. 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.”

KFSN and the Chronicle obtained a copy of the 77-page investigative report by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office.

Gerrish, a Snapchat engineer, the baby and the dog were found dead in one area of the trial, but Chung, a yoga instructor and graduate student, was found alone in another area of the trial at a higher elevation, the report said.

One witness spotted the family’s truck on the trail at 8 am. The temperature was a mild 75 degrees but within hours it had soared to 109.

According to the report, one seasoned hiker told investigators that he would stay out of the area from June to September due to the extreme conditions.

The family started the day with 85 ounces of water, but the U.S. Forest Service volunteer recommends 160 ounces of water for each adult, and 16 ounces for an infant and dog, the report said.

That volunteer told a deputy that the family seemed “completely unaware of the dangers,” according to the Chronicle.

While toxins were found in the water samples collected as part of the investigation, authorities doubt that the family drank any of it.

The family’s cause of death had been a mystery for months. Investigators considered several possible causes including algae in the water, toxic gas, and poisonous vegetation. The report found that the extreme heat, rough terrain, and poor preparation caused the family to die.

One expert called the terrain, elevation and heat a “deadly trifecta,” according to the Chronicle.

A doctor who specializes in treating extreme heat victims told investigators that once someone gets heat stroke they can die within a few hours. He said the “clock was ticking,” for the family once they started the hike without the proper amount of water and other issues.

The couple's babysitter was the last person to see the family alive on August 13, two days before the hike. That same day, Chung texted her a video of Miju starting to walk.

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