Deadly Algae?! Investigation Into Mysterious Death Of Family Takes New Path…

The investigation into one of the most mysterious death cases in recent history has taken another turn.

In case you missed it, authorities were utterly stumped when they found the bodies of a family of three, as well as their dog, on a hiking trail in the Sierra National Forest.

The Mariposa County family had been reported missing after Google engineer John Gerrish didn’t show up to work on Monday, and friends were unable to contact him or his wife Ellen Chung all day. The last anyone had heard from then, they said on social media they were taking their one-year-old daughter Aurelia Miju on a hike. The search ended in tragedy as all three family members and their pet golden retriever were discovered dead on a hiking trail up to Hite Cove, close to the area known as Devil’s Gulch.

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There was no evidence of animal attack, foul play, or any violence at all. No suicide note, no signs of trauma. They were just… gone.

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At first the nature of the bodies led investigators to take extra caution and treat the site as a HAZMAT scene. There was a worry, because the area near Hite Cove was home to an historic hard rock gold mine, that there was a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. However, experts later pointed out gold mines don’t usually create an excess of carbon monoxide — and the gas disperses outdoors, so the entire family succumbing while hiking through the area didn’t make sense. Now the hazmat order has been lifted; according to the Fresno Bee, Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese no longer believes the mines were a factor.

Unfortunately that’s just one theory ruled out. There is still no clear cause of death confirmed, but the bodies have finally been moved to the coroner’s office to await autopsies and toxicology reports.

However, there is a current theory being investigated that anyone in the area should take very seriously: toxic algae blooms.

A state map lists an important warning for the area north of where the family was found, telling hikers to “stay away from algae and scum in the water”:

“Do NOT let pets go in the water, drink the water, or eat scum on the shore. Keep children away from algae. Do not eat shellfish from this waterbody.”

Oh no… How toxic is the algae where they were??

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The California State Water Resources Control Board is currently testing the water where they were found, by the south fork of the Merced River. They updated their map of harmful algae blooms (which you can see HERE) with a new warning:

“Water Boards recommends a CAUTION due to suspected fatality. Sample results are pending.”

When asked about the tests, spokesperson Blair Robertson told the Bee:

“While there has been speculation that the cause of the deaths may be tied to harmful algal blooms (HABs) in a remote river or lake, we are not aware of any such evidence at this time.”

However, there is reason enough to test. The water board acknowledged the family could have been exposed to cyanobacterial toxins, which are formed in algae blooms:

“Our staff is conducting testing of the waterways near where the bodies were located and will make the lab results available to the public as soon as we get them. Autopsies were to be conducted earlier today and we await those findings. Our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.”

Unfortunately the toxicology reports on the family may take quite some time. Kristie Mitchell, spokesperson for the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, told the outlet:

“Toxicology can take up to six weeks, sometimes even longer. Unfortunately we don’t have a great time frame for that yet.”

It may be some time before we get an answer to this mystery. In the meantime, stay safe and do your research before hiking in an unknown area.

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