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'Help us. No water': Man's last text before he and family died on California hiking trail

The British Snapchat engineer, who died with his family in 100F heat on a California hiking trail, reportedly sent a desperate final text for help which didn't go through
UPDATED FEB 19, 2022
Jonathan Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, and their daughter Aurelia 'Miju' Chung-Gerrish (L) and Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese (R) (Twitter)
Jonathan Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, and their daughter Aurelia 'Miju' Chung-Gerrish (L) and Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese (R) (Twitter)

The British Snapchat engineer who died with his family in 100F heat on a California hiking trail reportedly sent a desperate final text for help, but poor network meant the message didn't go through.

45-year-old Jonathan Gerrish, his wife Ellen Chung, 31, their one-year-old daughter Aurelia 'Miju' Chung-Gerrish, and dog Oski were found dead on a hiking trail near the Merced River in August 2021. After months of work with an FBI forensics team, the Mariposa County Sheriff's Office has released information pulled from Gerrish's cellphone.


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According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one text was sent shortly before noon on August 15, 2021, to a person whose name wasn't released. "Can you help us," it asked, adding, "No water or ver (over) heating with baby." However, investigators said the text never went through due to a bad cell signal. Neither did five attempted phone calls to various people. 

The baffling case involved more than 30 law enforcement agencies that thoroughly reviewed and ruled out potential causes of death including murder, lightning strikes, poisoning from algae-tainted water, toxic gases emitted by abandoned mines, illegal drugs, and suicide. Investigators concluded last fall that the family died of extreme heatstroke after temperatures reached 100F in the steep mountain terrain and the family had run out of water. In an email to detectives, a survival trainer wrote that the young couple likely died while attempting to save their infant daughter.


"Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other," the trainer, who wasn't identified, wrote. "It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents' efforts up the hill. When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones. It is a tragedy of the highest order."

The family was found two days after relatives had reported them missing. They had reportedly hiked 6.4 miles with the baby in a backpack-type carrier and were 1.6 miles away from their car. Authorities retrieved an 85-ounce container that they were carrying and found it was empty. They found Gerrish's cellphone in his pocket. According to the Sheriff's Office, five phone calls went to several phone numbers but the family didn't call 911. The first call was made at 12:09 pm, and around 12.35 pm, the family made four calls in rapid succession. Unfortunately, none of the calls got through, investigators said.

"Our message to the hiking community is please take into account aquifers as well as geographics," said Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese, noting how the victims did not have water filtration equipment with them. "Prepare appropriately. The community is resilient, the community is safe, but this is an unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather," he added.


"The loss of the family is pain beyond words," devastated relatives said in a statement. "When that pain is compacted by lack of knowledge about their death, the questions of where, why, when, and how to fill the void, day and night." The family members thanked the authorities for having "truly gone the extra mile" in their quest to find answers. "Some questions have been answered, and we will use this to help us come to terms with this," they said. "They will remain with us wherever we go, or whatever we do. In the future when we sit beneath the trees, hearing the wind soar beneath the branches, we will think of them and we will remember."