‘Unknown hazards’ found on Sierra National Forest trail near where California family was found dead

Authorities have closed a trail in the Sierra National Forest west of Yosemite, near where a Northern California family and their dog were found dead.

Sierra National Forest officials on Saturday announced the closure of the Merced River Recreation Area “due to unknown hazards found on and near the Savage Lundy Trail.”

The trail will be closed until Sept. 26 or will reopen sooner “if conditions around it change.”

John Gerrish, 45, Ellen Chang, 30, and their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their family dog, Oski, were found dead Aug. 17 in Devil’s Gulch in the south fork of the Merced River in the Sierra National Forest, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said. Services arriving on the scene treated the situation as dangerous because the cause of death was unclear.

Previous autopsy reports provided by the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office had ruled out chemical hazards on the Savage Lundy Trail and sharp injuries such as stab wounds, gunshot wounds or blunt force trauma.

So this latest closure — which occurred just days before all of California’s national forests were closed due to the Caldor fire — adds an additional circumstance to their mysterious deaths. There is a possibility that there was a hazard near the trail, but not on it, that posed a risk to the family.

Toxicology results are expected in the coming weeks, and last week investigators requested access to Chang and Gerrish’s cell phones and their social media accounts.

Water samples from the scene and from the family’s backpacks were sent early last week to the California State Water Resources Control Board and independent labs, the sheriff’s office said.

The family’s Sunday hike was intended to be a day trip, which caused concern among numerous friends when the family did not return home.

The California Department of Justice and sheriff’s office officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death, which is being handled as an investigation involving experts and coroners.

“We know John and Ellen’s family and friends are desperate for answers, our team of detectives is working around the clock,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Breeze said in a statement last week.

Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Christy Mitchell, described the deaths as a “very unusual, unique situation” and said “no apparent cause of death has been found. However, there are concerns that the area may be dangerous.”

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