John Gerrish & Ellen Chung Mariposa California couple, baby daughter & dog, found dead after British Google engineer & wife mystery death while hiking along Devil’s Gulch.
Authorities in Northern California are trying to determine what killed a Mariposa family of three and their dog who were found on a hiking trail in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest after being reported missing earlier this week.
Search teams on Tuesday discovered the lifeless bodies of all three victims – identified as John Gerrish, a British-born software engineer for Google; his wife Ellen Chung; and their one-year-old daughter, Muji – near an area known as Devil’s Gulch in the Southfork of the Merced River, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook release.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the family of three were found out on a hiking trail, not in a tent.
Their dog was also mysteriously dead, prompting authorities to treat the site as a hazmat scene, said Kristie Mitchell, a spokeswoman with the sheriff’s office.
The camping area sits atop several former gold mines.
Gold mine carbon monoxide emissions?
‘It could be a carbon monoxide situation. That’s one of the reasons why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation,’ she said.
‘There are several abandoned mines up in the area and in an abundance of caution or recovery team is taking precautions for any poisonous gases, particles in the area,’ Mitchell added. ‘So far, there has been no measurable poisons registered.’
Mitchell also did not rule out possible exposure to toxic algae. She noted that the bodies of the deceased showed no signs of trauma, and no suicide note was found.
‘It is a very bizarre situation,’ she said.
The episode follows a 2013 incident in which two gold and silver miners died in Colorado after being exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide, along with 19 others falling ill — in a suspected gas leak.
Dr Mike Nelson, professor of mining engineering at University of Utah, cast doubt on the theory that carbon monoxide emissions from an old gold mine were possibly to blame for the deaths.
Talking to the dailymail, Nelson explained that gold mines are not known to produce carbon monoxide, and even if the gas were present, it would have gone up into the air. The also noted that the family were found outdoors and not in an enclosed space where exposure to carbon monoxide could be lethal.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the bodies of the family remained in the canyon, about 2 miles from the trailhead where their vehicle was found.
‘The area is so remote the workers have to leave the area just to get a signal to communicate back to headquarters,’ Mitchell said.
The bodies were scheduled to be transported to the medical examiner’s office to undergo autopsies tomorrow.
If the medical examiner decides to conduct toxicology tests, results could take up to six weeks.
A friend had reported the family missing at 11pm on Monday evening after Gerrish and Chung failed to show up for work that day, reported Fox 26 News.
Gerrish and Chung were last heard from early Sunday, when they uploaded a photo of a backpack. Rosanna Heaslett, the family friend, said they hiked on weekends.
Had relocated to Mariscopa from San Francisco
The family’s gray Ford Raptor was located near the Sierra National Forest gate early Tuesday. The bodies of the couple, their daughter and pet dog were found between 9.30am and 10am.
‘This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver, my heart breaks for their family. Our Sheriff’s Chaplains and staff are working with their family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time,’ said Sheriff Jeremy Briese.
The sheriff’s office is investigating the deaths along with the California Department of Justice.
The remote area where the bodies were found had no cellphone service, Mitchell said. It was close to the Hite Cove trail, known particularly in springtime to have spectacular wildflower displays.
According to social media posts, Gerrish was a native of Lancashire, England, who worked as a software engineer at Google. Chung, of Korean descent, was from Orange, California. The woman was a yoga instructor prior to her pregnancy and was going to graduate school, studying to become a marriage and family therapist.
The couple decamped from San Francisco to the area during the coronavirus pandemic after Gerrish had the opportunity to work from home as a software engineer, family friend Steve Jeffe told The Fresno Bee.