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'Can you help us': Desperate text, calls didn't go through before California family was found dead on hike

The family attempted to make five phone calls and send a text message but the area did not have cellular service, authorities said.
Tahoe National Forest
A family of three were found dead on a hiking trail in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest, on August 17, 2021.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

A California family who died from heat and dehydration during a hike in a remote area of the Sierra National Forest desperately tried to call for help but their calls did not go through because of poor cellular service, authorities said.

John Gerrish, Ellen Chung, their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and their dog were all found dead on Aug. 17 more than a mile from their car off Savage Lundy Trail after a friend reported them missing.

The family's deaths were determined to be hyperthermia and probable dehydration due to environmental exposure. The Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office said the family had climbed the trail in triple-digit heat and an empty 85-ounce water bladder backpack was found with them.

On Thursday, the sheriff's office released further details into the death investigation and said data from Gerrish's cellphone showed that the hike began around 7:44 a.m.

The family took multiple selfies and scenery photos as they hiked, the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post.

Just before noon, Gerrish attempted to text someone 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.”

Authorities did name the person Gerrish tried to text. The family also tried to make five phone calls to various numbers but the calls never connected.

The first call was at 12:09 and the last call was made at 12:36 p.m., authorities said.

The sheriff's office said the phone details support their findings that the family died from a heat-related incident. Relatives for Gerrish and Chung could not immediately be reached on Friday.

"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."