The family of a Briton who was found dead with his wife and their one-year-old daughter in a remote Californian hiking region are ‘heartbroken’ over their deaths and still have no idea how they died.
Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung and their daughter Muji were found by search teams on Tuesday in area of the Sierra National Forest known as Devil’s Gulch.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office of Mariposa County said the family of three were found out on a hiking trail and not in a tent. The family dog was also found mysteriously dead, prompting authorities to treat the isolated site as a hazmat scene.
Police say they are working on the theory that they could have been poisoned by carbon monoxide from old mines in the area. But experts have already cast doubt on that line of investigation. Another is that they may have been exposed to toxic algae.
Detectives said there were no signs of trauma on the bodies and no suicide note was found.
Mr Gerrish is a software engineer for Google and is originally from Lancashire.
Speaking from his home in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, his father Peter, 70, said: ‘The family are just in shock – heartbroken.’
But asked whether he had received any further updates or was in contact with US authorities, the grandfather added: ‘We haven’t heard anything more.’
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
Kristie Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office has said investigators are still working to determine the cause of their deaths.
‘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.’
Mitchell also did not rule out possible exposure to toxic algae. She noted that the bodies of the deceased showed no signs of trauma, and no suicide note was found.
‘It is a very bizarre situation,’ she said.
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.
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, 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 trailhead 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.
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
If the medical examiner decides to conduct toxicology tests, results could take up to six weeks.
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.
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, of Korean descent, was from Orange, California.