Gay hiking

Before his death, a family of hikers in California sent desperate pleas for help

EL PORTAL, Calif. — A family of three who died of hyperthermia and dehydration last summer while hiking a remote Northern California trail have made desperate pleas for help, including sending calls unsuccessful and a text message that they had no water and their baby was overheated.

As San Francisco Patch previously reported, Jonathan Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chung, 30, and their one-year-old daughter Miju all died while hiking a trail near Hite’s Cove on August 17. . Their dog also died.

The couple moved from San Francisco to Mariposa County in 2020. Gerrish worked for the social media app Snapchat, and Chung was studying for a master’s degree in family therapy, a family friend told The Washington Post. Gerrish was found sitting on the trail with his daughter and dog nearby. Chung was found a bit up a hill.

The trail had a steep hill with little shade. Temperatures reached 109 degrees, authorities said.

“This is an unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese said at a news conference.

Officials initially suspected their deaths were linked to poisonous gases from nearby old mines. After ruling this out, the trails were closed as wildlife officials warned visitors of a high concentration of toxic algae. Then, in September, officials investigated lightning strikes along the trail. Ultimately, officials determined in October that the family had died of hyperthermia and dehydration.

On Thursday, the Mariposa County Sheriff‘s Office released more details about the family’s journey that day, as well as their unheeded pleas for help.

Using GPS data from cellphones, investigators recreated the family’s journey and created a timeline of events leading up to their deaths. The family started their hike around 7:45 a.m. at the Hite’s Cove trailhead and traveled north to the South Fork Merced River. After reaching the river around 9 a.m., the family followed the loop south, walking along the river for another hour before heading back to their car on the Savage Lundy Trail.

Around noon, the family attempted to send a text message, but it was unsuccessful because there is no cell service in the area, authorities said.

“{name redacted} can you help us. On Lundy Wilderness Trail back to Hites Cove Trail. No water or heater (over)heating with baby,” the text reads.

Between noon and 12:36 p.m., the family made a flurry of frantic phone calls that never came through. None were at 911.

  • Call 1: 12:09:20
  • Call 2: 12:35:48
  • Call 3: 12:36:06
  • Call 4: 12:36:19
  • Call 5: 12:36:24

“The cellphone data results were the last thing the family and detectives were waiting for, Briese said in a statement. “The information extracted confirms our initial findings. I am very proud of my team and our partner agencies for all the work provided. Their dedication enabled us to close this file and answer the family’s persistent questions, bringing them a little of peace .”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said the family had died of hypothermia and dehydration. The family actually died of hyperthermia and dehydration.