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Family found dead near Yosemite died from extreme heat, sheriff says

UPI News
UPI News
 2021-10-22
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Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Local authorities say they've determined the cause of death of a family that mysteriously went missing near California's Yosemite National Park.

In August, Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their 1-year-old daughter were found dead near the western entrance of the park after going on a hike days before. The Mariposa Sheriff's Office looked into a range of possible causes of death, including toxic algae and noxious gases from abandoned mines.

But the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post on Thursday that hyperthermia from extreme heat and probable dehydration caused the family's death. The conclusion was based on the autopsies and toxicology tests by the sheriff's pathologist.

The sheriff's office was unable to determine the cause of death of Oski, the family's 8-year-old Aussie-Akita mix. But the sheriff's office suspects the dog also suffered from heat-related issues.

"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," Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in the post. "As I've mentioned the Gerrish Gung family have been our top priority as we dealt with this horrible event."

The sheriff dedicated an entire team to the case and partnered with 30 state, local and federal agencies. While investigators tried to piece together what could have happened, speculation swirled around the family's disappearance. Carbon monoxide or dioxide poisoning, exposure to cyanide, illegal drug or alcohol consumption and lighting strikes were all offered as possible causes of death.

According to the sheriff's office, the family hiked along a stretch of the steep Savage Lundy trail that offered little shade and saw temperatures rise between 107 degrees to 109 degrees, cooling slightly later in the afternoon. The family was found dead on the trail with only one empty 85-ounce water bladder with no other filtration systems.

The search was triggered after the family's babysitter showed up to an empty house the following Monday, according to the sheriff's office.

The Gerrish and Chung families issued a statement thanking the sheriff's office.

"Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju and of course Oski," reads the statement. "They will remain with us wherever we go and whatever we do."

While the families said some of their questions have been answered, "the question 'why' can never be answered and will remain with us."

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