John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter Miju, and the family dog were found dead Tuesday in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest. The California family of three was reported missing late Monday night and friends say they were last seen on Saturday. Police conducted a search and rescue mission in the area, eventually located the family’s car.
The vehicle was located near a Sierra National Forest gate leading to Hites Cove in California, a 6.5-mile trail near Yosemite Valley, California. It’s rated as a moderate trail and is known for its stunning waterfalls. Hites Coves allows dogs to use the trail.
Police made the gruesome discovery early Tuesday morning. Just before 9:30 a.m., authorities located John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and Miju “deceased near the Devil’s Gulch area in the Southfork of the Merced River drainage,” the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office reported. The Devil’s Gulch is an abandoned gold mine, authorities said. Police also found the family’s dog dead at the scene, a peculiar occurrence the sheriff’s office pointed out.
“This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver, my heart breaks for their family,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese said Tuesday. “Our Sheriff’s Chaplains and staff are working with their family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time.”
According to the sheriff’s office, an investigation is currently underway to understand what happened to John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old child. It’s not yet clear how the California family died. Their cause of death is currently being investigated by “sheriff personnel with the assistance of the California Department of Justice,” a news release confirmed.
“Current scene information does not indicate a clear picture of what occurred or a clear cause of death,” The sheriff’s office admitted. “The scene is currently being handled as a hazmat and coroner investigation.”
It was not revealed on Wednesday morning why the hazmat unit was called to the scene. Kristie Mitchell, a spokeswoman with the sheriff’s office explained that there were gold mines in the area, which could have warranted enhanced protective measures for the emergency responders and subsequent investigators at the scene.
“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,” Mitchell told The Fresno Bee. “That is why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation. We just don’t know.”
It is possible that the family died of carbon monoxide poisoning, police reported. How that occurred is still under investigation. The presence of the abandoned gold mine is expected to have played a role in the deaths, though we won’t know more until authorities reveal further information.
Mitchell added that “it could be a carbon monoxide situation” which is “one of the reasons why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation.” She also noted that the bodies were found in a remote area with no cell phone service.
The last mode of contact the family had with the outside world was on Sunday at 6:45 a.m. when the family uploaded a photo of the baby backpack they took with them on the hike. According to their family friend, Rosanna Heaslett, John Gerrish and Ellen Chung did not return home or to work on Monday. That is when she became worried.
She says they usually hike on the weekends and drive a dark gray Ford Raptor. John Gerrish was described as a 6-foot-2 man with long hair in a ponytail. He had a thick English accent. Ellen Chung was a Korean woman with an athletic build. They shared their 1-year-old daughter and a golden retriever.