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Authorities Have New Suspect in Family's Mysterious Deaths

Lightning strikes in Mariposa County's Hite Cove under consideration
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2021 8:43 AM CDT
In Family's Mysterious Deaths, a New Possibility
This Aug. 18, 2021, file photo shows a remote canyon area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif., that is reported to be the area where a family and their dog were found dead.   (Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP, File)

(Newser) – Authorities still don't know what killed a family of three and their dog along a California hiking trail, though they're investigating a new possibility: lightning strikes. Law enforcement are "investigating possible lightning strikes" in the Hite Cove area of the Sierra National Forest, along the South Fork of the Merced River, where Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and the family dog, Oski, were found dead, with no visible signs of trauma, on Aug. 17, the New York Times reports.

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Investigators have already ruled out the use of a deadly weapon and exposure to gases from abandoned mine shafts in the region. Still, authorities closed several trails near the site in Mariposa County last week as a precaution "due to unknown hazards found in and near the Savage Lundy Trail," per SFGate. They're still waiting on toxicology reports and apparently also on a test of water taken from a water bladder backpack the couple carried. The trail had posted warnings about toxic algae blooms.

High levels of toxic algae were detected in new water samples taken downstream from where the family died, prompting the Bureau of Land Management to close campgrounds and recreation areas along 28 miles of the Merced River on Friday, per the AP. "These algal blooms can produce toxins that can make people and pets extremely sick," says BLM field manager Elizabeth Meyer-Shields. SFGate notes death by lightning strike is extremely rare, occurring in about 10% of cases. Investigators are seeking access to the couple's cellphones and social media accounts for further clues. (Read more mysterious death stories.)

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