A family of three from Northern California was found dead in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest after being reported missing, the local sheriff’s office said.
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office started a search around 11 pm Monday after John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old daughter Muji after a friend reported them missing.
Search teams found their bodies near an area called Devil’s Gulch in the Southfork of the Merced River.
Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement: “This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver; my heart breaks for their family.
“Our Sheriff’s Chaplains and staff are working with their family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time.”
The sheriff’s department is investigating the family’s tragic death alongside the California Department of Justice.
Mariposa County public information officer Kristie Mitchell confirmed to USA Today that the deaths may be due to the hazardous environment, which may have carbon monoxide and toxic algae.
“We aren’t specifically saying this is carbon monoxide, we aren’t saying it’s toxic algae, we aren’t saying that it couldn’t be something else. What we wanted to do was just take extra precautions because there are additional hazards in the area,” she said.
Mitchell added that there were no gunshot wounds or signs of trauma. There is still no clear indication of what caused their deaths.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” she said. “We aren’t ruling anything out at this point.”
According to reports, the camping area sits atop several abandoned gold mines.
“It could be a carbon monoxide situation. That’s one of the reasons why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation,” Mitchell said.
“There are several abandoned mines up in the area and in an abundance of caution or recovery team is taking precautions for any poisonous gases, particles in the area. So far, there has been no measurable poisons registered.”
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