After a family of three and their dog were found dead on a hiking trail in California, authorities now suspect that toxic algae could have played a role in the mysterious deaths.
Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter Miju and their dog were found dead by authorities on Tuesday, August 17. They reportedly went on a hike on Sunday, August 15, and were reported missing on Monday, August 16. The family was said to have been found near an isolated spot known as Devil’s Gulch in the Sierra National Forest.
The initial autopsies reportedly did not provide any answers to the mysterious deaths. A necropsy is reportedly being conducted on Oksi, the family dog. A Mariposa County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kristie Mitchell told CNN that no other animals were found dead in the surrounding area.
Last month, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife warned that "water testing along the Merced River near Hites Cove… show a high concentration of algae bloom." At the time, the department warned people not to swim or allow their pets in the water as "some species can produce toxins, and if present, can pose a risk to humans and pets."
The scene was initially treated as a "hazmat" situation, but the declaration was lifted on Wednesday, August 18. Investigators are reportedly testing for algae blooms in the water.
"I don’t believe it’s connected to a mine," Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told the Fresno Bee after there was speculation that there may have been poisonous gases coming from old mines. According to Briese, the closest mine was around three miles away from where the bodies were found. "We won’t rest until we figure it out," he said.
"When we come across a family with no apparent cause of death, there's no smoking gun, there's no suicide note, there's nothing like that, we have to consider all options," Mitchell told Fox News over the weekend. "Now that we're five days in, no, we're no longer considering homicide as a cause of death."
Mitchell told the publication that investigators are waiting for toxicology reports of the water the family had brought with them as well as nearby water sources.