(Updated) ‘No One Knows’ How This Entire Family Suddenly Died In Sierra National Forest

Updates posted to the bottom of this article.

There’s something so tragic about people passing away while adventuring. From the backpackers who travelled to Australia and then escaped from the Wolf Creek killer, to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon who died mysteriously while hiking in Panama, and the tragic story of the “Death Valley Germans” — everything is a little bit more dangerous when you’re in an unfamiliar place. This is true because in some cases, predators look for the most vulnerable people to prey on. Tourists and travelers can be an easy target. For instance, Charles Sobhraj is a French serial killer who lived in South Asia and preyed on European and North American tourists. There are also a lot more dangers inherent to life on the road than life safe at home. “Van life” couples like Lindsay Cutshall and her fiancé Jason Allen and newlyweds Crystal Turner and Kylen Schulte have been killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They simply are in the places where predators also tend to hang out.

What is so terrifying about another very sad story of an entire family losing their lives while hiking, is that no one can figure out how they died.

The bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their infant daughter Miju, and the family dog, Oksi, were found on an isolated hiking trail in Sierra National Forest in California on Tuesday, August 17th, 2021. The family were reported missing the previous day. When the bodies were discovered, no wounds were found and no cause of death could be identified. The deaths didn’t look intentional and there was no suicide note. Local Sheriff Jeremy Briese said, “I’ve never seen a death-related case like this…There are no obvious indicators as to how it occurred.” Because of this, investigators wore hazmat suits while looking for clues at the scene. Some of the theories being investigated are toxic gasses, toxic algae and carbon monoxide from abandoned mines.

Kristie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s said “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… We’re not focusing on one specsomething went wrong, the family had been hiking the Savage-Lundy Trail, which is unpopular in the summer because of how little shade it offers, but the trail is only 2.6 miles long. There is no cell service in this area. The family was reported missing by by their nanny on Monday when she showed up for work and could not find or reach them.

The investigation is ongoing. Autopsies were performed on the family and their dog. A friend of the family told SF Gate: “We’re all just devastated… They were really beloved by the people. A super generous, sweet and loving couple that was devoted to their daughter.”

Update 9.23.21: Authorities have ruled out use of a deadly weapon or exposure to chemicals as a cause of death for 3 members of the Gerrish family and their dog. The nearby Merced River between the towns of Briceburg and Bagby remains closed as they investigate whether a toxic algae bloom could be responsible for the deaths. The local Mariposa Gazette reported on 9.16.21 that there are no new leads in this case.

Update 10.22.21: A cause of death for the Gerrish family has been determined. Mariposa Sheriff Jeremy Briese announced yesterday that John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, baby Miju, and family dog Oski died of “hyperthermia and possible dehydration due to excessive heat“. Police believe that the whole family succumbed to the extreme and unplanned heat of the day. When the Gerrish family set out on the hiking trail it was in the 70s but along the trail temperatures rose to a peak of 109 that day. Recent wildfires had burned up vegetation along the trail that would normally provide areas of shade where hikers could rest. The family’s water bottles were empty.

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Chrissy Stockton