Gay hiking

Remote hiking area where a Northern California family was found dead treated as a hazmat site

Sheriff’s deputies were left mystified at how a family of three, along with their dog, perished on a remote hiking trail in Mariposa County.

“This is a very unusual and unique situation,” said Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell. “There were no signs of trauma, no obvious cause of death. There was no suicide note. They were in the middle of a national forest on a day hike.

The bodies of Jonathan Gerrish, his wife, Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were to be transported to the coroner’s office in Mariposa on Wednesday for autopsies and toxicology examinations, Mitchell said.

Searchers found the bodies Tuesday on the Hite Cove Trail near an area known as Devil Gulch at the South Fork of the Merced River, about a mile from their parked car, after a friend of the Mariposa family reported them missing on Monday. The site is about 10 miles northwest of Mariposa. The couple were known to be great hikers.

Investigators were looking into whether a toxic substance, such as gas from mines in the area or toxic algae, could have been responsible. They were treating the area where the bodies were found as a dangerous site, Mitchell said.

According to records, the Hite’s Cove area was the site of hard rock gold mining in the mid-19th century, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Collaborative history group said.

“At this time the coroner’s office is investigating,” Mitchell said. “We have no answers. It’s definitely weird.”

The couple’s friend, Mariposa realtor Sidney Radanovich, said Gerrish was a San Francisco-based software designer who, along with his wife, “fell in love with the Mariposa area” and bought several homes there, a residence and rental investments.

“They were such a loving couple, they loved each other very much,” Radanovich said. “He loved showing the baby all kinds of things and explaining them to him. She didn’t understand, but he would explain them to her anyway.

Radanovich recalled that once, while on a house-buying tour, Gerrish took a walk with his daughter to explore a nearby river bed because, she said, “he just liked to explore places and show them to him”.

The couple, she said, were regulars at the annual Mariposa Butterfly Festival and a downtown brewery.

“So down to earth people,” she said.

The parked car was searched, but nothing was found to help investigators determine what happened to the family, Mitchell said.

Sheriff Jeremy Briese said chaplains and staff are advising family members.

“My heart breaks for their family,” he said.

Steve Rubenstein is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @SteveRubeSF