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Report Reveals New Details on Family Hiking Tragedy

Body of John Gerrish was found with daughter, while Ellen Chung was found on a hill
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2021 11:40 AM CST
Hikers' Last Moments Likely Spent Trying to Save Baby
This Aug. 18 photo shows a remote canyon area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif., where a family and their dog were found dead.   (Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee via AP, File)

(Newser) – For weeks, it was a mystery of the highest order. How did a California couple perish with their 1-year-old daughter and dog on a California hiking trail? In October, the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office ended the speculation by announcing that Ellen Chung, 31, Jonathan Gerrish, 45, daughter Miju, and dog Oski succumbed to the heat—specifically to hyperthermia and dehydration. And now the San Francisco Chronicle has obtained 77 pages of investigative reports backing up that conclusion. One of the wrenching details is that it appears the couple spent their final moments trying to save their daughter. Among the key points:

story continues below

  • The couple left for an 8-mile hike in the Sierra National Forest early in the morning on Aug. 15, when the temperature was in the 70s. It would peak at 109 that day. They "appeared to catastrophically underestimate just how dangerous their trek would be," per the story. For one thing, they didn't bring nearly enough water.
  • They made it about 80% of the way. The body of Gerrish was found with the couple's child and dog, while they body of Chung was found nearby, partway up a hill.
  • "Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other," detectives quote a survival trainer as writing. "It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents' efforts up the hill. When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones."
(Read more hikers stories.)

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