The investigation is now being treated as a homicide.
While there is still no evidence to suggest foul play, in the absence of any other explanation, County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said he had no choice but to treat the case as such.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a death-related case like this,” he told The Times. “There’s no obvious indicators of how it occurred.”
“You have two healthy adults, you have a healthy child and what appears to be a healthy canine all within a general same area,” he added. “So right now, we’re treating the coroner investigation as a homicide until we can establish the cause.”
The HAZMAT declaration on was lifted Wednesday, as the bodies of the three — as well as their dog, Oski — were finally airlifted from the scene.
The already-outlandish theories of toxic algae or a gas leak from the mines below have even begun to lose weight.
“We have not found any old mine shafts near the area,” the Sheriff said. “There are some mine shafts, but we can’t confirm if that’s the cause yet.”
Police must now wait on toxicology reports from the autopsies, which could take as much as six weeks.
A young California family of three have been found dead in a remote area of Sierra National Forest.
original story 8/18/2021 8:38 AM
The bodies of John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, and their one-year-old daughter Muji, as well as their pet golden retriever, were discovered on Tuesday morning near a hiking trail miles into the park.
There was no obvious cause of death, and investigators are treating the scene as HAZMAT.
The family, from Mariposa, were reported missing by a family friend on Monday night. They had not been seen since Saturday; their final social media post was uploaded at 6:45 AM Sunday morning: a picture of the baby backpack the couple carry their daughter in.
Rosanna Heaslett told News4SA that the couple regularly went hiking on weekends, but had not returned or turned up for work on Monday morning.
Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office began a search-and-rescue operation, and located their new dark grey Ford Raptor parked at the Sierra National Forest gate, at the bottom of the trail leading to Hite Cove, a five mile hike.
But by 10 AM, the search was over: all four bodies were discovered in the open on a trail near the Devil’s Gulch area in the South Fork of the Merced River drainage.
The area was so remote, rescuers had to hike back out to get satellite phone reception to report their grim find.
Sheriff’s Deputy Kristie Mitchell told the Fresno Bee that because of mines in the area, and because there was no obvious cause of death, the scene was being treated as a HAZMAT situation.
“We’re processing the scene right now. There’s no clear indication of cause of death,” she said, adding that the bodies have still not been recovered.
“Coming across a scene where everyone involved, including the family dog that is deceased, that is not a typical thing that we have seen or other agencies have seen,” Mitchell said. “That is why we’re treating it as a hazmat situation. We just don’t know.”
Deputy Mitchell told TooFab that while foul play has not been ruled out, there was nothing to indicate it: no gunshot wounds, no trauma of any kind, no suicide notes.
Some of the theories include a significant carbon monoxide leak from one of the mines deep below, or possibly even toxic algae, which can be caused a gas leak; hence the abundance of caution and the HAZMAT approach.
“It’s just a very bizarre situation,” she said.
The California Department of Justice is now assisting the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office with the investigation.
“This is never the outcome we want or the news we want to deliver, my heart breaks for their family,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a news release.
“Our Sheriff’s Chaplains and staff are working with their family and will continue to support them during this heartbreaking time.”
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