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Officials Stumped After California Family And Dog Found Dead In National Forest

Authorities currently have no idea what happened to the family of three and their dog, who were found dead on a trail but showed no signs of violence.

By Megan Carpentier
Sierra National Forest G

Law enforcement officials are have more questions than answers in the discovery of a California family that was found dead with their family dog on Tuesday on a popular hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest.

John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their daughter Miju, 1, and the family's dog Oski were all discovered on the 3-mile long Savage-Lundy Trail in the forest, in an area known as Devil's Gulch near the community of Hites Cove. A family friend told the Merced Sun-Star that the family had gone for a day hike on Sunday, but were reported missing on Monday night by a friend, after they were not home when the nanny arrived that morning.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that search teams located the family's vehicle near the national forest gate that leads to Hite's Cove, and then found the family's bodies on the trail shortly thereafter.

Because there were no apparent causes of death, the scene was handled as a hazmat investigation, and a spokesperson told the Associated Press that there were concerns that it could be related to carbon monoxide, possibly from old mines in the area.

Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese sheriff rescinded that on Wednesday, both lifting the hazmat status and stating that there were no mines within three miles of where the bodies were found, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Investigators are also looking into the possibility that toxic algae blooms may have played a role in the deaths, according to NBC affiliate KSEE in Fresno. The U.S. Forest Service posted a warning about the algae blooms, which had been found by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in late June as part of its wadeable streams assessment along the Merced River near Hites Cove, on July 13. It is unclear what particular toxic algae were present at that time of the announcement.

Autopsies for the family, along with toxicology tests, were scheduled for Thursday in Stanislaus County. Authorities are hopeful they will provide more information about what caused the family's demise, the Bee reported. (A necropsy was also planned for the family's dog at the University of California Davis.)

The family had relocated to Mariposa County during the pandemic in 2020, when Gerrish's job became remote, according to the Merced Sun-Star.

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