Remember this item from August 22nd?
The mysterious deaths of a British Google engineer and his family on a hiking trail were not a case of homicide, police say.
The bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung and their daughter Muji – along with their dog Oski – were found by search teams on Tuesday in an area of the Sierra National Forest known as Devil’s Gulch. …
The Marisopa County Sheriff’s Office is now ruling out homicide in the hiking trail deaths, Fox News reports. Spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell said: ‘Initially, yes, when we come across a family with no apparent cause of death, there’s no smoking gun, there’s no suicide note, there’s nothing like that, we have to consider all options.
‘Now that we’re five days in, no, we’re no longer considering homicide as a cause of death.’
On October 21, 2021, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office announced its long-awaited conclusions about what had killed an active, outdoorsy family and their dog on a hiking trail in California’s Sierra National Forest on August 15. They determined that the family died of “hyperthermia and probable dehydration” on a day when temperatures hit 109 degrees. The cause of death of Oski, an eight-year-old Aussie-Akita mix, remains undetermined. Based on a veterinary examination of the dog’s remains and other evidence on the scene, Sheriff Jeremy Briese said Oski probably also died of heat-related issues. …
The mystery surrounding the family’s death both saddened and captivated people worldwide. Speculation flew on social media, where armchair sleuths hypothesized about everything from poisoning by drug cartels, to a hit by Garrish’s one-time employer, Google. A more promising hypothesis, reported in September by the San Francisco Chronicle, was that the family had been exposed to dangerous anatoxins from algae blooms in the nearby South Fork Merced River (the Sierra National Forest closed the surrounding area as a precaution). The investigation’s toxicology report proved otherwise.
In a press conference, Briese said 30 different agencies aided his office’s investigation, including the FBI. “This is an unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather,” Briese said.
The trail where the Chung-Gerrish family died is an approximately eight-mile loop with more than 4,000 feet of elevation change. It starts at 3,880 feet of elevation, drops down to a river valley at 1,800 feet, and then climbs back out. Hikers typically access it from a dirt road called Hites Cove Road, about 18 miles northeast of Mariposa, at a rudimentary trailhead. There is no cell phone service in the area. Leak Pen, an assistant recreation officer at the Bass Lake Ranger District, which oversees that portion of the Sierra National Forest, described the loop as “steep and challenging and mostly popular during the cooler spring months.”
When the family began their hike at 8:00 A.M. on Sunday, August 15, it was about 75 degrees. The investigation noted that Gerrish’s cell phone showed he had researched the trail the day before using an app, charting out the family’s route. They probably expected to be on the trail for four or five hours, back home in time for a late lunch. They’d packed some snacks, a bottle with baby formula, and an 85-ounce bladder full of water. A common guideline for adult hikers is to drink 16 ounces of water per hour under normal circumstances. Following that math, two people hiking for four hours need 128 total ounces of water. Add in extra for the dog, and to contend with the hot temperatures forecast that day, and Chung and Gerrish probably should have been carrying two 85-ounce bladders. They did not bring a water purifier or a portable dog bowl.
Their hike began with a steep, yet scenic 2.2-mile descent down to the South Fork Merced River, by which time temperatures would have risen by at least 15 degrees, into the 90s. From there, the family trekked parallel to the river for just under two miles. During that time, it’s easy to imagine Oski romping along the riverbank and getting a drink. Perhaps Chung and Gerrish began to worry about their own dwindling water supply. It was searingly hot, over 100 degrees when they reached the hike’s halfway point at the intersection with the Savage-Lundy Trail, which would bring them back to their car.
The app that Gerrish had used to plan their outing wouldn’t have told him that the Ferguson Fire of 2018 had incinerated all the California incense-cedars and pines that used to shade the trail. The tourism site Yosemite.com calls the Savage-Lundy “the most difficult trail in the area.” It gains more than 2,000 feet of elevation in its three-mile ascent, on a south/southeast facing slope exposed to constant sunlight. The Chung-Gerrish family only made it up the first two miles. Temperatures for that section of the trail, from 12:50 P.M. to 2:50 P.M., topped out at 109 F. When local authorities found their bodies two days later, the bladder was empty, save for small traces of water.