Authorities in Mariposa County, California are trying to determine why a family of three and their dog died on a remote hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest near Yosemite National Park.
Search and rescue workers found the bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and the family dog Tuesday near the Devil’s Gulch area in the Southfork drain of the Merced River, the Office of the Mariposa County Sheriff in a statement.
They had been reported missing Monday night.
No signs of trauma were immediately found for family members, no suicide notes or any other clear indication of what caused their deaths, Mariposa County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Kristie Mitchell told Citizen Free Press.
First responders initially treated the area as a possible hazmat scene out of concern that carbon monoxide from nearby mines could have poisoned the family.
Last month, the US Forest Service warned that toxic algae had been discovered in the Merced River and urged people not to swim, wade or allow their pets to drink the water.
The bodies have been recovered and are undergoing an autopsy, but Mitchell said they will likely have to wait for toxicology results, which could take weeks, to determine the cause of death.
“This is a tragic and frustrating case for us,” Mitchell said. “It will probably be a long and tedious investigation.”
The bodies of the family were found on the Savage-Lundy Trail, which is popular in the spring for its colorful wildflowers. Mitchell said it is very hot this time of year and there is little shade.
He said the family was well prepared for a day hike.
There is no cell service in the area, so search and rescue teams had to rely on satellite phones to communicate.
“This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver, my heart breaks for his family. Our sheriff chaplains and staff are working with his family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement.
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