A family of three found dead on a Northern California hiking trail in August died of heat exposure and possible dehydration, the local sheriff’s office revealed Thursday.© Provided by The Daily Beast YouTube/ABC
“Heat-related deaths are extremely difficult to investigate,” Mariposa County sheriff Jeremy Briese said at a press conference, citing an official cause of death of hyperthermia.
The bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old daughter Muji were found mid-August on the Savage Lundy Trail, a remote area of Sierra National Forest. Their dog Oksi was lying next to them, also dead.
The family had been hiking on a trail where temperatures were sky-high, between 107 and 109 degrees, Briese said Thursday. There was little shade due to an earlier fire in the area. Sheriff’s deputies only found one empty water container with the family.
Initially, officials were unable to discern a cause of death and approached the family’s bodies wearing Hazmat suits. Speculation ran rampant, and the sheriff’s office ruled out multiple possible causes of death in the intervening months.
The bodies showed no wounds or trauma, and even autopsies did not give immediate clues as to the cause. Officials expressed public frustration in the weeks after the discovery. In September, officials closed the trail where the family was found for “unknown hazards” but reopened it soon after.