Mariposa County Sheriff: ‘I’ve never seen a death like this’

Local News

MARIPOSA, Calif. (KSEE) – Authorities are working to recover the bodies of a family and their dog after they mysteriously died on a hike in rural Mariposa County.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s office says the bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their one-year-old daughter, Muji, were discovered at about 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Authorities are still in an active recovery mission, according to the Mariposa County Sheriff.

The family was reportedly found in the Hite’s Cove area of the Sierra National Forrest, along the Southfork of the Merced River.

Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese says there was no indication of blunt-force trauma on scene, and that this incident is a first in his 20 year career. 

“I’ve worked in different capacities but I’ve never seen a death like this,” Briese said.

Briese says his department won’t rest until investigators determine how Gerrish, Chung, their daughter, and dog all died while hiking on Monday. A spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office says the family was reported missing around 11:00 p.m. Monday night. Sheriff Briese says there are some abandoned mine shafts in the area, which can release dangerous gases. However, that has not yet been ruled as a determining factor. 

“We have not located a mine nearby,” Briese said. “But in the beginning of the investigation, when we put out our release, that’s why we are taking it slow and methodically for the safety of the rescuers.”

The sheriff also says the trail the family was on had warnings about toxic algal blooms in the Merced River, but it’s still too early in the investigation to determine if that impacted the family. 

“At the beginning there are some signage about algae blooms, but that’s from the forest service, and I can’t speak to the potential dangers of that.”

The family’s death is sending a shockwave through the community. A friend of Gerrish and Chung’s said off-camera that the couple owned multiple rental properties in Mariposa. The friend also said Gerrish was from the United Kingdom and Chung from San Diego. Noelle Stobbe works at a local restaurant in Mariposa where she says Gerrish and Chung frequented, and had befriended all the staff. 

“I think a great way to describe them would just be universal friends because they just made everybody feel comfortable around them,” Stobbe said.

The California Department of Justice is also assisting with this investigation to help determine the cause of the family’s death. The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office says autopsies and toxicology reports are pending.

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