Father of software developer found dead still awaiting autopsy

‘We are mystified like everyone else’: Father of British software developer found dead with wife, baby and dog on California hiking trail says family are still waiting for autopsy test results but insists they were NOT murdered

  • Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung and their one-year-old daughter Muji were found by search teams on Tuesday in an area of Sierra National Forest 
  • Police confirmed the bodies showed no sign of trauma and no suicide note 
  • Jonathan’s father Peter, 70, said he is ‘mystified’ by their deaths as he still awaits the results of their autopsy but insists they were not murdered  
  • Forest officials last month warned about ‘extremely dangerous’ algae blooms 

The father of a British software developer who was found dead with his wife, baby and dog on a California hiking trail said he is ‘mystified’ by their deaths but insisted they were not murdered.

Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung and their one-year-old daughter Muji were found by search teams on Tuesday in an area of the Sierra National Forest known as Devil’s Gulch.

American police said the bodies showed no sign of trauma and no suicide note was found.

Officials are also looking into whether poisonous algae killed the family but later lifted the hazmat declaration which was announced last week. Their dog Oski was also found dead close to them adding to the mystery.

Cops had announced that they were treating the mysterious deaths of Mr Gerrish, originally from Lancaster and his family as a homicide. However the Marisopa County Sheriff’s Office have now ruled that out.

Mr Gerrish’s father Peter, 70, told MailOnline: ‘We are mystified like everyone else. I don’t want to say a great deal as there is a lot going on.

The father of British software developer Jonathan Gerrish (pictured with wife Ellen Chung) who was found dead with his wife, baby and dog on a California hiking trail said he is ‘mystified’ by their deaths 

The couple were last heard from early on Sunday when they uploaded a photo of a backpack. Pictured: Jonathan with baby Muji

‘We are just waiting for the authorities to do all the tests. We are in touch with them and are awaiting the final analysis.’

Speaking from his home in Bamber Bridge, Lancs he added: ‘We don’t believe they were murdered. We just want people to get on with the task at hand.’

He had also said that the family were ‘heartbroken’ by the puzzling deaths.

Searchers began looking for the family after they were overdue on a day hike and reported missing last Monday.

They were found on the Savage-Lundy hiking trail near Hites Cove, which was once a thriving mining community after gold was discovered in 1861.

Gerrish was a software developer for Snapchat, had previously worked for Google. He graduated from Newcastle University.

Last month, Sierra National Forest officials posted a warning about ‘high concentrations’ of algae which can produce ‘extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals’ in the water in the Merced River at Hites Cove

This map shows the remote area in Mariposa County, California, where the bodies were discovered on Tuesday

His American wife was studying psychology and the couple were very active and often spent time outdoors or traveling.

Marisopa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kristie Mitchell has said investigators are still working to determine the cause of their deaths and ‘looking at all possibilities.’

‘It could be a carbon monoxide situation,’ which is why the department had been treating the scene as a hazmat situation she explained.

The family’s dog Oski was found dead along with its owners by search teams 

She told Fox News that murder has now been ruled out.

‘Initially, yes, 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.

‘Now that we’re five days in, no, we’re no longer considering homicide as a cause of death.’

There are several abandoned mines up in the area and in an abundance of caution our recovery team is taking precautions for any poisonous gases, particles in the area,’ Mitchell added. ‘So far, there has been no measurable poisons registered.’

Mitchell also did not rule out possible exposure to toxic algae. ‘It is a very bizarre situation,’ she said.

According to a Reuters article published in 2013, two gold and silver miners died in Colorado after being exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide, and 19 others fell ill.

County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said: ‘I’ve been here for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a death-related case like this. There’s no obvious indicators of how it occurred.’

Officials first began looking into the toxic algal bloom from the Merced river as the cause for what overcame the family, along with possible escaping gas from abandoned gold mines.

But the sheriff said they could not find any disused shafts in the vicinity.

Searchers began looking for the family on Monday after they were reported missing by friends when they did not report to work 

The area were the family’s bodies were found was initially treated like a hazmat situation because of the strange circumstances

‘We have not found any old mine shafts near the area,’ he added. ‘There are some mine shafts, but we can’t confirm if that’s the cause yet.’

Police are still waiting on the results of post-mortem examinations. Further toxicology reports could take up to six weeks.

Autopsies and toxicology tests are planned for Thursday in Stanislaus County.

California State Water Resources Control Board and Mariposa County are now re-testing the river water for cyanobacterial toxins, which can form in algal blooms.

On July 13, Sierra National Forest officials posted a warning about ‘high concentrations’ of algae which can produce ‘extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals’ in the water in the Merced River at Hites Cove.

However the California Department of Public Health said it did not know of any human deaths from ‘recreational or drinking water exposure to cyanobacterial toxin’ although some animals have been killed by algae.

Signs were posted on the trail warning hikers about ‘high concentrations’ of algae which can produce ‘extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals’ in the water in the Merced River at Hites Cove

The bodies were located near the Hite Cove trail, known particularly in springtime to have spectacular wildflower displays

Briese told The Times: ‘There are those different options that are out there – mineshafts and offgassing potential and we’re learning more with our partners in the Forest Service and public health on the toxicity of the algae blooms that they’re posting about.’

‘It’s frustrating and we’re not going to rest… it’s devastating to everyone,’ he told the Modesto Bee paper.

The state map listing for the location north of Jerseydale, around where the family was found dead this week, warns people 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,’ the warning continues. ‘Keep children away from algae. Do not eat shellfish from this waterbody.’

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