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‘Something’s Weird’: Investigators Stumped by Mysterious Deaths of Parents, Toddler and Dog Found on California Hiking Trail

“This one is just so freaky and strange, and it’s really, really sad. They had so much going for them.”

Preliminary autopsy reports have not provided further explanation for the mysterious death of a young family and their dog found in Sierra National Forest last week.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Muji, and the family dog were found dead early Tuesday morning in Devil’s Gulch, a remote area near both Mariposa and Yosemite National Park. According to multiple reports, the family had gone for a hike on Sunday; when they didn’t return, a concerned friend reported them missing.

According to the Washington Post, the family was found dead about 1.5 miles from where their truck was parked near the Hites Cove Trail. The report provides new details about the positioning of the bodies. Gerrish, 45, was found in a seated position; Muju and the dog were next to him. According to the report, Chung, 31, was higher on the trail, but it appears she was in close proximity.

As previously reported, investigators initially treated the area as a hazmat scene, suspecting that the family may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Authorities have still not ruled out carbon monoxide poisoning, but an official told the Fresno Bee that investigators no longer suspect toxic gases from old mines nearby contributed to the deaths. According to multiple reports, investigators are also considering the possibility that the family was exposed to toxic algae.

Authorities have reportedly said there was no visible trauma on the bodies, including any signs of gunshot wounds or snakebites.

“You come on scene and everyone is deceased. There’s no bullet holes, no bottle of medicine, not one clue,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s a big mystery.”

According to that report, two deputies slept near the bodies the morning they were first discovered, to make sure the scene was not disturbed. A California Highway Patrol helicopter later airlifted the bodies to be examined.

As the Sacramento Bee reports, toxicology tests are still pending; those results are expected to provide more clarity.

By all available accounts, the family was happy, healthy, and thriving in Mariposa County, where they had moved from San Francisco during the pandemic. According to the Fresno Bee, Gerrish worked for Google as a software engineer, and Chung was a yoga teacher before she became pregnant.

Steve Jeffe, a family friend, told the Fresno Bee that he believed the family had intended to go on a day hike on Sunday. When Gerrish did not report to work — presumably remotely — last Monday, those who knew him became concerned. It is unclear if Jeffe worked with Gerrish. Muju’s nanny also was alarmed to find no one at the family’s home when she arrived to work on Monday.

“We’re all just devastated,” Jeffe told the Fresno Bee. “They were really beloved by the people. A super generous, sweet and loving couple that was devoted to their daughter.

“This one is just so freaky and strange, and it’s really, really sad. They had so much going for them.”

Patti Murdock owns a doughnut shop in Mariposa County, and told the San Francisco Chronicle that Chung and her daughter had come to her store multiple times, when the mother would buy gluten-free and sugar-free donuts.

“I remember her cute baby,” Murdock told the newspaper. “They’re so young, those people — something’s weird … Everyone is shocked.”

It may be weeks before the results of the toxicology test are available.

We won’t rest until we figure it out,” Sheriff  Briese told the Fresno Bee. 

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