Initial Autopsy on Family of 3 Mysteriously Found Dead on Hiking Trail Turns Up No Clues

The bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter Miju, and their family dog were discovered in the Sierra National Forest on Tuesday, a day after they were reported missing

Jon Gerrish, Muji, Ellen Chung
John Gerrish, Ellen Chung and daughter Muji. Photo: Rosanna Heaslett

An initial autopsy has still left officials with unanswered questions in the case of a family of three found dead near a remote hiking trail in Northern California.

The bodies of Mariposa residents John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter Miju, and their family dog were discovered in the Sierra National Forest on Tuesday, a day after they were reported missing.

"Investigators have considered whether toxic gasses, toxic algae and carbon monoxide from abandoned mines near [the] area may have contributed to the deaths," Mariposa County Sheriff's spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell told Fox News.

Mitchell added, "We're not focusing on one specific cause at this point. There's just still so many that we can't rule out. We've looked at lighting strikes in the area. We've looked at storms… the weather, animals. We're looking at the entire area as a whole."

The bodies of the family members and their dog did not have any physical wounds, signs of trauma and no suicide note that would indicate it was intentional, she told Fox News.

"It makes for a very unique, very strange situation," Mitchell explained. "I think it's going to be a very long and in depth, thorough investigation because it isn't as clear cut as what some cases are."

The Mariposa County Coroner is awaiting toxicology results from the bodies, which could take a few weeks. A necropsy on the family dog is also being conducted, Mitchell confirmed to CNN.

The Mariposa County Sheriff's Office and Coroner did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request to comment.

John Gerrish and Ellen Chung
John Gerrish, Ellen Chung. Courtesy Steven Jeffe

Last month, the US Forest Service warned people not to swim, wade, or let their pets drink water in California's Merced River due to a discovery of toxic algae.

On Tuesday, investigators revealed that they were treating the scene as a possible hazmat situation. However, the hazmat declaration was lifted on Wednesday.

"Current scene information does not indicate a clear picture of what occurred or a clear cause of death, the scene is currently being handled as a hazmat and coroner investigation," the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

During the pandemic, Gerrish and Chung had moved about 160 miles from their home in San Francisco to Central California, their friend Steve Jeffe told The Fresno Bee.

"We're all just devastated," Jeffe told the outlet. "They were really beloved by the people. A super generous, sweet and loving couple that was devoted to their daughter."

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The couple made the move after Gerrish, a Silicon Valley software engineer, began working from home, the family friend told The Fresno Bee. They wished to raise Miju away from a major city and hoped to trade in the bustle of the San Francisco Bay Area for the calm of nature, he explained.

The first sign that something had gone awry was when the couple's nanny arrived at their home on Monday and found no one there, Jeffe told the newspaper. Their hiking trip on Sunday was only supposed to last a day.

"You had to figure it wasn't an overnight hike because it's been hot and they had the baby with them," Jeffe told The Bee. "John was supposed to work Monday and never showed up. That raised more concerns."

By Tuesday morning, the family was found.

"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," Kristie Mitchell previously told the Fresno Bee. "That is why we're treating it as a hazmat situation. We just don't know."

A family friend said Gerrish was originally from England, while Chung worked as a yoga instructor before becoming pregnant with their daughter, the Merced Sun-Star reported.

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