The bodies of John Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were found last Tuesday on a hiking trail near Hite’s Cove in the Sierra National Forest, but autopsies performed Thursday have provided investigators with no clue as to how they died.
A friend reported the Mariposa family missing last Monday after they did not return from a one-day outing in Yosemite National Park on Sunday and Gerrish—a software engineer who had recently switched jobs from Google to Snapchat—failed to show up for work.
“Investigators have considered whether toxic gasses, toxic algae, and carbon monoxide from abandoned mines near in area may have contributed to the deaths,” Mariposa County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell told Fox News.
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The U.S. Forest Service warned last month that toxic algae had been discovered in the nearby Merced River and urged visitors not to swim, wade, or allow their pets to drink the water. Investigators had also initially treated the scene as a hazmat situation due to concerns over carbon monoxide and other noxious gases coming from abandoned mines in the area, but that precaution was soon lifted.
“We’re not focusing on one specific cause at this point,” Mitchell said. “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.”
Police have been able to rule out blunt force, gunshots, or other intentional means of death due to the condition of the bodies, and no suicide note was found.
The sheriff’s department is still awaiting toxicology results and a necropsy is being performed on the dog, Oski, though investigators said that no other dead animals were found in the area.
They are also reportedly considering the possibility of rattlesnake bites, but Mitchell said they did not find physical evidence supporting that as the cause of death.
“This is just a tragic, frustrating case for us,” Mitchell told CNN. “It will probably be a long, tedious investigation.”
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