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Spot of Family's Mysterious Deaths Is Now Forbidden

Hiking trails in California's Mariposa County closed for unknown hazards
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 1, 2021 7:27 AM CDT
Updated Sep 5, 2021 12:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – California's Sierra National Forest has closed several trails near where a family and their dog died mysteriously two weeks ago, citing unknown hazards. Nine trails, six picnic sites, and a dirt road leading to the Hites Cove trailhead in Mariposa County are affected by the closure, to last until Sept. 26, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Jonathan Gerrish, 45; Ellen Chung, 30; their 1-year-old baby Aurelia Miju Chung-Gerrish, and their 8-year-old dog Oski set out from the trailhead on Aug. 15, two days before their bodies were found along Savage-Lundy Trail in Devil's Gulch, about 1.5 miles below their truck. There were no obvious signs of death.

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"We are uncertain of the causes of death," Leak Pen of the Bass Lake Ranger District, which oversees this section of forest, tells the Chronicle. "So, as a precaution, let’s go ahead and close it because we know there's some form of hazard to the public." Sheriff Jeremy Briese says detectives are "working 'round the clock," per People. They've already ruled out the use of weapons and dangerous gases from a mine. Toxicology reports and tests on water samples taken from the south fork of the Merced River, near where the couple was hiking, and a water bladder backpack the couple carried are pending. However, Pen said one water test had detected harmful algae bloom.

This isn't a surprise as officials had warned of such blooms about a month before the deaths. Pen said there was a chance the family "drank the water or tried to treat the water," as temperatures reached as high as 109 degrees on the day they hiked, "but we don't know … It's very mysterious, and we're all just waiting for the results." Officials said the closures "will be accomplished with signs and/or barricades and monitored by law enforcement personnel," per the Sacramento Bee. Meanwhile, all national forestlands in California will be closed beginning Tuesday until at least Sept 17, owing to "extreme fire conditions." (Read more mysterious death stories.)

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