Authorities in Northern California are trying to determine what killed a family of three and their dog who were found on a hiking trail in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest after being reported missing.
Search teams on Tuesday discovered the lifeless bodies of all three victims – identified as John Gerrish, a British born software engineer for Google; his wife Ellen Chung; and their one-year-old daughter, Muji – near an area known as Devil’s Gulch in the Southfork of the Merced River, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office told DailyMail.com the family of three and their pet were found out on a hiking trail, not in a tent.
Their dog was also mysteriously dead, prompting authorities to treat the site as a hazmat scene, said Kristie Mitchell, a spokeswoman with the sheriff’s office.
The camping area sits atop several former gold mines.
Jonathan Gerrish, his partner Ellen Chung and their one-year-old daughter were found dead near an area called Devil’s Gulch in a remote part of Northern California on Tuesday
The family’s dog was found dead along with its owners by search teams
‘It could be a carbon monoxide situation. That’s one of the reasons why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation,’ she said.
‘There are several abandoned mines up in the area and in an abundance of caution or recovery team is taking precautions for any poisonous gases, particles in the area,’ Mitchell added. ‘So far, there has been no measurable poisons registered.’
According to a Reuters article published in 2013, two gold and silver miners died in Colorado after being exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide, and 19 others fell ill.
Mitchell also did nor rule out possible exposure to toxic algae. She noted that the bodies of the deceased showed no signs of trauma, such as gunshot wounds, and no suicide note was found.
‘It is a very bizarre situation,’ she said.
Dr Mike Nelson, professor of mining engineering at University of Utah, cast doubt on the theory that carbon monoxide emissions from an old gold mine were possibly to blame for the deaths.
During a phone interview with the DailyMail.com on Wednesday, Dr Nelson explained that gold mines are not known to produce carbon monoxide, and even if the gas were present, it would have gone up into the air. He also noted that the family were found outdoors and not in an enclosed space where exposure to carbon monoxide could be lethal.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the bodies of the family remained in the canyon, about 2 miles from the trail head where their vehicle was found.
‘The area is so remote the workers have to leave the area just to get a signal to communicate back to headquarters,’ Mitchell said.
The bodies will be transported to the medical examiner’s office sometime today and will undergo autopsies tomorrow.
If the medical examiner decides to conduct toxicology tests, it could be up to six weeks before the causes of death are revealed.
A friend had reported the family missing at 11pm on Monday evening after Gerrish and Chung failed to show up for work that day, reported Fox 26 News.
Gerrish and Chung were last heard from early Sunday, when they uploaded a photo of a backpack. Rosanna Heaslett, the family friend, said they hiked on weekends.
The family’s gray Ford Raptor was located near the Sierra National Forest gate early Tuesday. The bodies of the couple, their daughter and pet dog were found between 9.30am and 10am.
‘This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver, my heart breaks for their family. Our Sheriff’s Chaplains and staff are working with their family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time,’ said Sheriff Jeremy Briese.
This map shows the remote are in Mariposa County, California, where the bodies were discovered on Tuesday
The bodies were located near the Hite Cove trail, known particularly in springtime to have spectacular wildflower displays
Gerrish, a native of England, worked as a software engineer at Google. Chung was from Orange, California, but was of Korean descent
The sheriff’s office is investigating the deaths along with the California Department of Justice.
The remote area where the bodies were found had no cellphone service, Mitchell said. It was close to the Hite Cove trail, known particularly in springtime to have spectacular wildflower displays.
According to social media posts, Gerrish was a native of Lancashire, England, who worked as a software engineer at Google. Chung was from Orange, California, but was of Korean descent.