Toxic algae may have killed California family hiking through national forest

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Johnny Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their daughter and their dog mysteriously passed away while hiking in the Sierra National Forest.

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A California family died mysteriously in the Sierra National Forest – and now investigators say poison algae may have been the culprit.

John Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, and their 1-year-old daughter Miji were found dead Tuesday on a hiking trail in the remote Devil’s Gulch section of the forest in Northern California.

Police opened a murder investigation, but Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese said toxicity of local algae blooms could be at fault in a case with “no smoking gun” the Fresno Bee reports.

“We don’t have any indicator of how the death occurred,” the sheriff said. “We’re treating the coroner investigation as a homicide until we can establish the cause.”

He noted there was “no obvious sign of trauma or cause of death.” But algae blooms are a known danger in the area.

Johnny Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their daughter and their dog mysteriously passed away while hiking in the Sierra National Forest.
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“Algae and cyanobacteria can rapidly grow out of control, or ‘bloom,’ when water is warm, slow-moving, and full of nutrients,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that rising temperatures and manmade pollution can increase bloom growth and potential danger.

That algae can turn toxic in the right conditions. California officials are testing the nearby waters, while police await the results of toxicology reports on the victims.

Those results “can take up to six weeks, sometimes even longer,” sheriff’s spokesperson Kristie Mitchell told The Bee. “Unfortunately we don’t have a great time frame for that yet.”

Until then the mystery remains.

“I’ve never seen a death-related case like this,” Briese said. “There are no obvious indicators as to how it occurred.”

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