Focus on paraquat

David and Michelle Paul died of a mysterious illness while vacationing in Fiji. Picture: SUPPLIED/ABC News

INVESTIGATIONS into the tragic deaths of David and Michelle Paul is focusing on paraquat as the toxic agent that may have caused their deaths.

A month today since they were stricken by a fatal mysterious illness, both families of the deceased say they hope the couple was not deliberately poisoned.

“The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said during a phone conference they’re now testing for toxins and they’re looking closely at paraquat, herbicides,” said Marc Calanog, Michelle’s father.

“I’m confused because I don’t know where they would get that from.

“They did mention there was a beverage in the room, but nothing else about what the beverage was or how it is linked to the investigations.”

David’s mother, Marsha Cutlip Paul, said immediately after the conference she started reading up on paraquat.

“I read as many articles as I could because I didn’t know about paraquat, and read that it is used for killing dogs in Fiji,” she said.

“But it doesn’t help me understand why they would have ingested paraquat.”

Both families said suicide was unthinkable because the couple was happily married and were just one day into their dream vacation when they fell sick.

Mrs Cutlip Paul said her family also asked that tests for Ciquatera (fish poisoning) be conducted.

“David would have eaten vegetables, fruits and fish, he loved seafood,” she said.

Mr Calanog said he would rule out fish poisoning in Michelle’s case because “she hates fish”.

“The only seafood she will eat is shrimp.

“So when I think about what they ingested, I know they both love their salads, but if raw vegetables were contaminated, then why didn’t other diners suffer like they did.

“So if they rule out the possibility or likelihood that the food contained toxins, I don’t even want to think that someone deliberately laced their food or drink with something.”

He said his daughter had just started working for the Marriott Group and was well liked. David worked for American aerospace, defence and security firm Lockheed Martin but “didn’t live in a dangerous world at all that I know of,” Mrs Paul said.

“We do want to find out what happened to them so it never happens to other people,” she stressed.

Investigations had earlier ruled out influenza and infectious diseases as possible causes of death.

The families have been told more tests were in progress, specifically the work being done in Australia.

Organisations involved and supporting the Ministry of Health in the investigation include CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), WHO’s partners the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and Collaborating Centre, the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, the Fiji Police Force’s forensics department, and the Fiji Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“We are working with the Paul family to have an agreement of working together and give the permission for the free flow of medical information as it pertains to the investigation into their deaths,” Mr Calanog said.

“We have strongly asked CDC and Texas Department of Health that on our second conference call, that the Paul and Calanog families are on the same conference call.

“Texas Department of Health and CDC will review their regulations to see if this is feasible.” The second conference call is in two weeks.

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