The couple had backpacked through the Himalayas, rode camels through the Gobi Desert and ticked off Burning Man, and even created their own hashtag, an amalgamation of their first names: #jellonadventures.
So a day of hiking in the Sierra National Forest, even with the demanding switchbacks and three-figure heat, wouldn’t have been unusual for Jonathan Gerrish and Ellen Chung, husband-and-wife transplants from San Francisco who had recently become parents to a little girl. , Miju, during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the trek would be the family’s last: Search teams found all three bodies on August 17, a day after the family was reported missing, not far from Yosemite National Park. The family’s dog, Oski, an Aussie-Akita mix, was also found dead.
More than two weeks later, researchers are still baffled as to the cause of their deaths. Teams in dangerous suits had already scoured the area for clues. On Saturday, the US Forest Service closed off trails and recreational areas near where the bodies were found.
The Forest Service had previously posted warning signs about potentially toxic algal blooms in the area. The agency said it had taken the step to “protect the public from unknown dangers.”
That development further confused those who knew the family, including Steven Jeffe, a friend and neighbor in Mariposa, California.
“It’s mysterious,” Mr. Jeffe said in an interview on Wednesday, “the unknown of what danger may be there.”
Mr. Jeffe said he became friends with the couple when they were all living in San Francisco. He described Mr Gerrish, a software engineer born in Britain, and Ms Chung, a family therapy graduate who had worked as a yoga instructor, as outdoor types who were experienced walkers.
Mr. Gerrish, 45, had worked as a software engineer for Google, according to his LinkedIn profile. Most recently, he worked for Snapchat, according to Mr. Jeffe. Ms. Chung, 30, grew up in Southern California and was of Korean descent, Mr. Jeffe said.
“It’s such a beautiful family,” Mr. Jeffe said. “It’s obviously so devastating.”
The initial autopsy results have not yielded any answers to authorities. Investigators said there were no signs of trauma and they were investigating possible lightning strikes in the area.
A spokeswoman for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said in an email Wednesday that there were no new updates to the investigation.
In an interview with The Fresno Bee, Sheriff Jeremy Briese said he had never encountered such a mysterious case.
“It’s frustrating and we’re not going to rest,” Sheriff Briese said. “Our greatest mission is safety, but also the family and its closure, and to be able to support them in this tragic time.”
On August 19, the California State Water Resources Control Board, using a water quality reporting card on its website, warned the public to “stay away from algae and foam in the water” near the southern fork of the Merced River in the Sierra National Forest. .
A description of the incident said the agency had received a report of a “suspected disease” in the area. The warning previously referred to a fatality but was changed to illness, The Bee reported.
“DO NOT let pets enter the water, drink the water or eat dung on the shore,” the warning read. “Keep children away from algae. Do not eat shellfish from this body of water.”
The Forest Service, which has temporarily closed all California national forests this week due to wildfires spreading across the state, has not responded to a request for comment.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the family was reported missing at 11 p.m. on Aug. 16. The next day, search teams found the couple’s vehicle at one of the gates to the Sierra National Forest. Their bodies were found a short time later near Devil Gulch.
“My initial thought was that the car had veered off the path,” said Mr Jeffe, who interrupted a trip to Croatia when he heard the bodies had been found. “People went out to watch.”
In an Instagram post in August 2020, Ms Chung beamed at the birth of her daughter.
“Their daughter was everything,” Mr. Jeffe said. “They were very devoted parents.”