Family that died in California mountains made desperate plea
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A family that died of heat exhaustion during a grueling summer hike in Northern California sent a last, desperate text pleading for help, authorities said Thursday.
The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office released information pulled from the cellphone of Jonathan Gerrish after months of work with an FBI forensics team.
One text made shortly before noon on Aug. 15 to a person whose name wasn’t released asked: “Can you help us” and added: “No water or ver (over) heating with baby,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
But the area had bad cellphone service and the text never went through. Neither did five phone calls to various people, investigators said.
Ellen Chung, 31, her 45-year-old husband, their 1-year-old daughter Aurelia “Miju” Chung-Gerrish, and their dog Oski were found dead on a hiking trail near the Merced River last August.
Their deaths baffled investigators. The case involved more than 30 law enforcement agencies that had painstakingly reviewed — and ruled out — causes such as murder, lightning strikes, poisoning from algae-tainted water, abandoned mines that might emit toxic gas, illegal drugs and suicide.
Last fall, investigators concluded that the family died of extreme heat stroke. Temperatures that afternoon reached 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) in the steep mountain terrain and the family had run out of water. A wildfire had burned off any shade canopy.
Officials found the family two days later after relatives had reported them missing. The family had hiked 6.4 miles (10.2 kilometers) with the baby in a backpack-type carrier. They were 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) away from their car.
The family had an 85-ounce (2.5-liter) water container with them that was empty.
The cellphone was found in Gerrish’s pocket. Beginning shortly after noon, Gerrish and Chung tried to call and text for help several times, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Five phone calls — four of them made in rapid succession — went to several phone numbers but the family didn’t call 911, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The first call was made at 12:09 p.m. Beginning at 12:35 p.m., the family made the final four calls in rapid succession, investigators said.
However, none of the calls connected.
This version corrects that in story that the distance in kilometers family hiked by the family was 10.2, not 2.5.