A friend of a family of three found dead on a California hiking trail on Tuesday says the whole situation is just "freaky." Jonathan Gerrish and Ellen Chung had set out for an apparent day hike in Mariposa County with their 1-year-old daughter and dog on Sunday. A missing-persons report was filed Monday after a nanny arrived at the couple's home to find no one there. Gerrish had failed to show up at work. On Tuesday morning, the bodies of the couple, baby Muji, and their dog were found on a trail in the Hite Cove area of the Sierra National Forest, along the South Fork of the Merced River. There were no obvious signs of trauma. Indeed, the sheriff's office called in a hazmat team over fears of exposure to carbon monoxide or toxic algae, reports the Fresno Bee. The trail had posted warnings about toxic algae blooms, per KSEE.
The area also features abandoned mine shafts that can release dangerous gases, but "we have not located a mine nearby," Sheriff Jeremy Briese tells KSEE. Over a 20-year career, "I've never seen a death like this," he adds. It's just "so freaky and strange," family friend Steve Jeffe tells the Bee. He says the "doting parents" had moved to Mariposa from San Francisco during the pandemic to raise their daughter closer to nature. Gerrish, originally from England, was a software engineer for Snapchat, but he was able to work from home during the pandemic, Jeffe says. Chung, a California native and former yoga instructor, was in graduate school studying to become a marriage and family therapist. "For this to happen to them and to their baby girl, it's exceedingly tragic," Jeffe says. "They had so much going for them." Autopsies and toxicology reports are pending. (Read more mysterious death stories.)