Friends of Ellen Chung were hoping an autopsy would explain the mysterious death of Jonathan Gerrish, his wife and their 1-year-old daughter Mizu. But the results were inconclusive, leaving California residents with ongoing questions about the strange disappearance of the British family in the Sierra National Forest.
There were few answers revealed, according to sheriff’s spokesperson Kristie Mitchell. The autopsy did rule out gunshot wounds and blunt force trauma, but it failed to indicate any other potential cause of death for Ellen Chung and her family. Mitchell did say that there was a lack of physical evidence on the bodies.
Investigators still haven’t ruled out murder, however, there was no conclusive evidence to indicate the deaths were a homicide. Mitchell claimed that investigators have essentially ruled out suicide, though, because there was no note or any other evidence that would suggest the deaths were intentional. Investigators have only a few leads to go off of in the bizarre case.
Mitchell said Thursday that “this is just a tragic, frustrating case for us” and that “it will probably be a long, tedious investigation.” Currently investigators are trying to determine if toxic algae blooms from the Merced River or harmful gases from the abandoned mines nearby could have been the cause. Authorities said that the toxicology results could take at least two to three weeks.
Prior to the family’s strange death, reports claimed that there was toxic algae present in the Merced River. The blooms could release chemicals harmful to humans and other animals. Hikers were warned not to swim in the Merced River and were urged not to let their pets drink the water.
Another possibility that was considered was the noxious gases assumed to be present in the abandoned mines in Devil’s Gulch. Ellen Chung, John Gerrish, and their 1-year-old daughter, Mizu were all found near Devil’s Gulch on a hiking trail in Sierra National Forest. After their bodies were found Tuesday, authorities declared a possible hazmat scene. Officials were concerned that carbon monoxide could have poisoned the California family.
That theory was quickly debunked, according to Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese. He said Wednesday night that he no longer believed the mines were a factor. He explained in a statement that “I don’t believe it’s connected to a mine,” and while “we don’t know the cause… we won’t rest until we figure it out.” As of Sunday morning, however, investigators haven’t officially ruled out the mines as a possible cause.
Investigators are also considering rattlesnake bites as a potential cause of death. There were, however, no bite marks reported by the Mariposa County Coroner.
Authorities said that there were no other animals found dead in the area – making it more difficult to pinpoint a cause. Only the family’s dog, Oksi, was found dead nearby. If there were other deceased animals, authorities would be able to more clearly determine whether noxious fumes or toxic algae were a factor. Oksi’s body is undergoing a necropsy, Mitchell said in their statement.
In a statement from Jeremy Briese, the sheriff said that “I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a death-related case like this. There are no obvious indicators of how it occurred. You have two healthy adults, you have a healthy child, and what appears to be a healthy canine all within a general same area.”
The mystery surrounding the death of Ellen Chung and her family has greatly affected their California community. One of their family friends, Steve Jeffe, said the family “were amazing people, very generous. They love their daughter very much.”
Jeffe said that Jonathan Gerrish worked for Google and had just recently started a job at Snapchat. He admitted that “they were an amazingly loving and doting family. Jeffe said that Ellen Chung and John Gerrish had a large group of friends and were beloved by many.
He added that “it’s a bewildering event. There’s something so disconcerting about what happened. Whether it was environmental or manmade, it was obviously something they encountered.”
What made the family’s demise even more startling was that they were experienced hikers who went on weekend trips very often. They were well prepared for a day hike, Mitchell explained in her statement. Ellen Chung, Jonathan Gerrish, Mizu, and Oksi were found on the Savage-Lundy Trail, a popular hiking trail for springtime excursions. Mitchell did say that it was very hot when the family died and that there was limited shade. The investigation is ongoing.