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Toxic algae bloom considered in death of California couple, their baby and family dog

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Posted at 1:21 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 13:21:44-04

MARIPOSA COUNTY, Calif. — Investigators are considering whether toxic algae blooms or other hazards may have contributed to the deaths of a California couple, their baby, and the family dog on a remote hiking trail.

“I know there has been some speculation and we haven't confirmed that, but there (is) signage from the Forest Service regarding an algae bloom. There’s some signage up there that could be poisonous, but at this point, we can’t rule anything out,” Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese told KFSN.

The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office had treated the area in the Sierra National Forest as a hazmat site after concerns were raised about the deaths being linked to potentially toxic gases from old mines nearby. But the hazmat declaration was lifted Wednesday, and the sheriff now says he doesn't believe the mines were a factor.

Search teams found the bodies Tuesday, about 12 hours after the family was reported missing, KFSN reports. They’ve been identified as John Gerrish, Ellen Chung and their 1-year-old daughter, Miju.

According to KFSN, the missing persons call came from a nanny who then told the couple's house manager.

The sheriff says the family members are avid hikers and he believes the couple lived in the area for the last year and a half.

“What we do know is that they are residents from Mariposa. They are new residents to the county. He is an engineer from the U.K. and she was from Southern California. I believe they met and were living in San Francisco before they moved to Mariposa,” Sheriff Briese told KFSN.

Autopsies on the family members are underway. Authorities tell KFSN that there was no obvious trauma or signs indicating the cause of death, so they’ve brought in a forensic team with the Department of Justice to analyze the scene.

Authorities tell KFSN that they haven’t ruled out the possibility of foul play.