On August 17, the bodies of John Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, and the couple’s one-year-old daughter, Miju, as well as the family’s dog, Oski, were discovered in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest in California along a hiking trail. The family’s nanny had reported them missing the previous day. The family went missing near this remote canyon northeast of Mariposa County, California.
It’s not terribly unusual for people to go missing and die in a national forest, but typically, when that happens, it’s the result of a fall, exposure, or an animal attack. But in the case of the Gerrish/Chung family, investigators cannot figure out what ki*lled them.
What is known amounts to very little: They weren’t shot or attacked by another type of weapon, and chemicals emanating from nearby abandoned mine shafts have been ruled out.
Toxicology labs on the family and the family’s dog were sent for testing, along with samples of water found on the trail, in addition to the water in the family’s drinking supply.
So far, nothing indicates how the four died.
The FBI is currently looking at Gerrish and Chung’s cell phone records, and search warrants have been requested for the couple’s social media accounts.
Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said the de*aths present a unique challenge for investigators, and that he had never seen such a case in two decades.
“I’ve worked in different capacities but I’ve never seen a de*ath like this.”
Temperatures along the trail on the day the family went missing soared to over 100 F degrees, but no signs of heat stroke were found on the family’s bodies.
The dominant working theory is that the family was poisoned by toxic algae blooms along the Merced River.
In July, the U.S. Forest Service issued an alert about the blooms and signage along the river warned visitors against swimming, wading, or allowing pets to go in the water.
Algae blooms are a common occurrence in the area during the summer months, and there is no shortage of health warnings posted in the park. Toxic algae may have ki*lled the four family members and their beloved dog.
Unfortunately, these warnings are often ignored. Even so, human de*aths are not the norm. In fact, the California Department of Public Health said it didn’t know of any human de*aths from “recreational or drinking water exposure to cyanobacterial toxin.”
Anne Schechinger, a senior analyst with Environmental Working Group, stated:
“It’s pretty rare for these algae toxins to actually kil*l people, but it can happen. And every year, many dogs and livestocks and other animals, wildlife, geese and birds, are ki*lled in the United States because of exposure to these toxins from algae blooms.”
It will be a few weeks before tests reveal whether algae blooms are to blame for the family’s demise.
So, what if algae blooms are ruled out as a cause of d*eath? Where does that leave us?
I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories and I believe that the most logical answer is usually the best explanation in questionable circumstances, BUT…what if no logical explanation emerges?
Chances are, John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, Miju, and the family dog died from something more down-to-earth than UFOs, Bigfoot, or inter-dimensional beings, but it makes for one fascinating case. It’s important to note that homicide has been ruled out as a possible cause of their de*aths.