Remote hiking area where Northern California family was found dead treated as a hazmat site

Sheriff’s deputies remained mystified over how a family of three, along with their dog, perished on a remote hiking trail in Mariposa County.

“This is a very unusual, unique situation,” said Kristie Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office. “There were no signs of trauma, no obvious cause of death. There was no suicide note. They were out in the middle of a national forest on a day hike.”

The bodies of John Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Muji, and their dog were to be transported on Wednesday to the coroner’s office in Mariposa for autopsies and toxicology exams, Mitchell said.

Searchers found the bodies on Tuesday on the Hite Cove Trail near an area known as Devil Gulch on the south fork of the Merced River, a mile or so from their parked car, after a friend of the Mariposa family reported them missing on Monday. The site is about 10 miles northwest of Mariposa. The couple were known to be avid hikers.

Investigators were considering whether a toxic substance, such as gas from mines in the area or toxic algae, could have been responsible. They were treating the area where the bodies were found as a hazmat site, Mitchell said.

According to records, the area of Hite’s Cove was the site of a hard rock gold mining operation in the mid-19th century, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Collaborative history group said.

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