A Texas couple’s family and friends are searching for answers after the pair came down with an unknown virus while they were vacationing in Fiji and tragically died.
David and Michelle Paul, of Fort Worth, Texas, had been looking forward to their trip to Fiji for quite some time but sadly never made it back home, KVUE reports.
“They were planning an amazing vacation,” Tracey Calanog, Michelle Paul’s sister-in-law, told the outlet, adding that the young couple would often take annual trips together, just the two of them. “They always wanted to explore.”
Their “amazing vacation”, however, turned into a nightmare when the parents of four — David and Michelle share a 2-year-old son and also raise David’s three kids from a past relationship — came down with an unknown illness, sending them both to the hospital.
“They knew something was going on in their body and were able to get to the hospital,” Calanog told the outlet.
Unfortunately, it was too late, as Michelle and David both succumbed to the illness they had contracted on the South Pacific island — one so aggressive and deadly that it managed to debilitate two healthy, fit, and young individuals.
“Very physically fit,” Calanog recalled to KVUE of Michelle, a former student-athlete, and David, an Air Force veteran, who were expected to return home from their trip just one day later.
Michelle was believed to have died first. After her passing, hospital staff reportedly planned to transfer David to an Australian hospital by helicopter for additional treatment but he died shortly before they could, according to KVUE.
On Monday, local police confirmed that the Pauls had died from an illness, though the exact type still remained unknown, and authorities are now working with Health Ministry to investigate the matter and conduct additional testing overseas, Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reports.
Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, Becca Archer-Knepper, confirmed the couples’ deaths to PEOPLE and said the embassy was assisting local authorities.
“For more than a week, the U.S. Embassy has been closely working with the Fiji government, police, and health officials in their investigation into the tragic deaths of two U.S. citizens while on holiday in Fiji,” Archer-Knepper said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“The Embassy has facilitated contact between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Fiji’s Ministry of Health to ascertain the causes of death and to assist in any related measures. We appreciate the efforts made thus far by the Fijian authorities and stand ready to provide further assistance, if requested. At this point, we are not aware of any specific public-health threat to the community.”
In the wake of their deaths, Calanog told KVUE the couple’s bodies will remain on the island until it is determined that the illness is not infectious. If it is, she said their bodies will have to be cremated.
In addition to leaving behind their son and David’s three children, the pair also shared a dog named Zooey, who Calanog recently set out to find after she had been boarded at an unknown kennel before the couple’s vacation.
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In an attempt to find Zooey, Calanog said she called numerous local dog kennels and posted about her on social media until she was successful in reuniting with the pup. “We were literally calling places on a hope and a prayer,” she shared with KVUE.
Zooey now lives at home with Calanog and her husband and serves as a reminder that a piece of Michelle and David will always be with them.
“We are incredibly grateful for everyone that came together and helped locate Zooey,” she told the outlet. “We know Michelle and David are with us in Zooey.”