‘Can you help us’: Family that died during hike sent final, desperate text
A family that died of heat exhaustion during a gruelling summer hike in Northern California last summer tried to send desperate calls and texts for help, but their attempts at communication failed because of poor cellphone service.
Jonathan Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, their one-year-old daughter, Aurelia “Miju” Chung-Gerrish, and their dog, Oski, were found dead Aug. 17 on a hiking trail near the Merced River, after temperatures spiked at 43 C. An empty, 2.5-litre water bladder backpack was found nearby.
On Thursday, the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office shared findings pulled from Gerrish’s phone by an FBI forensics team, reports CBS News.
Just before noon, Gerrish attempted to send a text for help, but the message never went through.
According to authorities, the message read: “can you help us. On savage lundy trail heading back to Hites cove trail. No water or ver (over) heating with baby.”
The family also tried to make five phone calls to various numbers, but none were able to connect. The first call was at 12:09 and the last call was made at 12:36 p.m., reports NBC.
The sheriff’s office also told reporters that the family took multiple photos during their hike, including two selfies.
Gerrish, 45, was an experienced hiker who used an app on his phone to plot a route along the Hite Cove Trail, an approximately 13-kilometre (8-mile) loop that hugs the south fork of the Merced River and is a popular spot to view wildflowers in the spring.
But many of the trees had been destroyed in a wildfire three years ago, leaving much of the trail with very little shade. The family and their dog began the hike at about 8 a.m. on Aug. 15.
It was about 23 C (74 F) when they started. But the temperature quickly climbed as the trail descended and the day heated up. By the time they reached the steep uphill section of the hike known as the Savage Lundy Trail, Briese said it was 43 C (109 F).
Officials found the family two days later after relatives had reported them missing. The family had hiked 2.5 kilometres away from their car with the baby in a backpack-type carrier.
The family’s death stumped investigators for many months. Dozens of officers were brought in to rule out causes such as lightning strikes, poisoning, murder, lethal drugs, and suicide.
“The cell phone data results were the last thing both the family and detectives were waiting on. The extracted information confirms our initial findings. I am very proud of my team and our partner agencies for all the work they put in,” Sheriff Jeremy Briese said in a statement.
“Their dedication has allowed us to close this case and answer lingering questions the family had, bringing them a little peace.”
— with files from The Associated Press