Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese announced Thursday that a family of three died while hiking in California's Sierra National Forest with their dog in August. It was due to heat-related problems.
Authorities were puzzled by the deaths of John Gerrish and Ellen Chung's 1-year-old daughter Miju and their dog. They initially closed trails and recreation areas in the area because of unknown hazards.
Briese reported that the temperatures on the trail they followed, which was often steep, reached between 107 to 109 degrees the day after their hike. They had one 85-ounce water bottle with them. It was empty when they were found. Due to the 2018 fire, portions of the trail had very little shade.
Based on the state of the remains, the cause of death for the dogs is technically unknown. Briese suggested that the 8-year old Akita mix may have also been suffering from hyperthermia or dehydration.
The family had completed most of the 8-mile hike in Hite Cove and were only 1.6 miles away from their car when they were discovered.
They were in Devils Gulch on a 110-degree day.
It was the most scenic route around Hite Cove Trail.
They were located approximately 1.5 miles from their vehicle. pic.twitter.com/AabfesiXQa Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) October 21, 2021
According to the sheriff, it was the first case of hyperthermia in the region.
A close relative's death is a devastating loss, family members said Thursday. That pain is unimaginable when you multiply that loss by four and one of those four is a newborn baby.
When they disappeared, the family was hiking in a remote area close to the Merced River. There is no cell phone reception.
Kristie Mitchell, spokesperson for Mariposa County Sheriffs Office said that this is an unusual and unique situation. There were no signs or symptoms of trauma. There was no suicide note. They were on a day trip through a national forest.
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Tests revealed that the river downstream from the family's home was contaminated with toxic algal blooms, leading to speculation that it could have caused their deaths.
Briese stated that although additional testing confirmed the presence and size of algae, toxicology reports did not show any evidence that they had ingested any.
Gunshots, extreme heat and lightning, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide were all considered, but they were ruled out.
Although investigators were open to the possibility that toxic gases could have leaked from one of the nearby abandoned mines, they found no evidence.
These algal blooms can cause toxins that can make pets and people extremely sick. Elizabeth Meyer-Shields, Bureau of Land Management Mother Lode field Manager Elizabeth Meyers, stated in a statement about the September temporary closure of public land near the river. Safety of those who visit our BLM-managed public land is a top priority.
This article was originally published on HuffPost. It has since been updated.