Homicide investigators are probing whether foul play was behind a fatal mushroom poisoning which killed three people and left a fourth fighting for his life.
The community of Korumburra in Victoria’s South Gippsland region are in mourning following the death of Don and Gail Patterson.
Ms Patterson’s sister, Heather Wilkinson, was also killed with her husband, Korumburra Baptist Church pastor Ian, fighting for his life.
Police believe the group were struck down after ingesting toxic mushrooms at a lunch in a home in nearby Leongatha last month.
Homicide detectives were reportedly now investigating the incident and had raided a home in Leongatha on Saturday.
Police interviewed a 48-year-old woman at the residence who was later released pending further inquiries.
The victims were initially believed to have been suffering gastro before they were transferred to The Alfred Hospital.
The news comes as a shock to the community of Korumburra, a town of about 3600 people 120km southeast of Melbourne.
Korumburra residents Lee and Chris Clements worked alongside Gail and Don Patterson at Korumburra Secondary College.
“My husband and I worked with them for 20 years and it’s really devastating news,” Ms Clements told the Herald Sun.
“Gail was in the office and Don was a very dedicated science teacher and loved his astronomy.
“They were very Christian and very lovely people. They would always say hello and acknowledge everyone.”
Ms Clements said the couple loved to travel and Don had recently visited China to further his religious studies.
She described Ms Patterson and sister Heather Wilkinson, who also died, as being close.
South Gippsland Shire mayor Nathan Hersey confirmed the group were involved in the Korumburra Baptist Church.
He told the Today show on Monday morning they were “well-loved” in their tight-knit community.
“We have had a significant loss to the Korumburra community this week,” he said.
“Many people in our community are grieving the loss of three very important, much-loved, and very well-respected people.”
Mr Hersey said Mr Wilkinson was still in hospital in a “bad way”, but would not comment on the investigation.
“It’s very hard in a tight-knit community, particularly when you have individuals who give back and give so much to the community.” he said.
“It‘s felt wide, far and wide, and I’m sure not just within South Gippsland and Korumburra, but further around our region as well.
“We are really wondering why is this happening to people who have been so integral and good and great people for our community.
“But, at the moment, we just have to let that investigation continue and provide whatever support we can as a community.”
Mr Hersey said the family had requested privacy while they grieved, but had told the council they “felt supported”.
The Mayor confirmed that the family had been at a private lunch when they were struck with what was believed to be gastro.
“That has obviously changed from that point with multiple people becoming extremely unwell,” he said.
“What happens from here needs to remain in the hands of the authorities to investigate.
“We are just hoping for a really good outcome for Ian.”