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Sheriff: Family of 3 died of hyperthermia, probable dehydration on California trail

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Posted at 8:16 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 10:20:24-04

MARIPOSA COUNTY, Calif. — Authorities have released a cause of death for a family of three that was found dead on a California trail with their dog.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday that Jonathan Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old daughter Aurelia “Miju” Chung-Gerrish died of hyperthermia and probable dehydration due to environmental exposure.

Officials say the cause of death was determined Oct. 15 after a pathologist completed his report based on autopsies, the investigation, and multiple toxicology results.

The cause of death for the dog, Oski, remains undetermined. However, investigators believe the 8-year-old Aussie/Akita-mix was possibly suffering from heat-related issues based on the condition of the animal’s remains and evidence on the scene, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Heat-related deaths are extremely difficult to investigate, and I want to thank you all for being patient with us as we investigated this case. As I’ve mentioned the Gerrish Gung family have been our top priority as we dealt with this horrible event,” said Sheriff Jeremy Briese.

Authorities say Jonathan and Ellen set out on the hike at the Hites Cove Trail Head on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 15, with Miju riding in a backpack-style child carrier and the dog at their side.

The family reportedly hiked multiple miles down the trail, where officials say the elevation ranged from about 1,800 to 3,880 feet, and temperatures ranged from around 74 to 109 degrees.

On Monday, Aug. 16, officials say the family babysitter arrived for her normal shift at the family’s home, but she was unable to locate them, so she called friends of theirs in an attempt to locate them. Loved ones continued to search and call Jonathan and Ellen throughout the day. Eventually, they reported them missing.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, search and rescue teams were able to locate human and animal tracks, which they followed down the Hit Cove Trail. That morning, officials say they located the family deceased about 1.6 miles from their vehicle.

The Gerrish/Chung family issued the statement Thursday that thanked the sheriff’s office for its work and said the relatives will use the information provided to help them come to terms with the situation.

“Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju and of course Oski. They will remain with us wherever we go and whatever we do. In the future, when we sit beneath the trees listening to the wind soughing through the branches, we will hear them and we will remember,” wrote the family in part.