UPDATE — 7/8, 5:23 p.m. EDT: The woman exposed to a Russian nerve agent known as Novichok last week died late Sunday in a Salisbury hospital.
U.K. authorities are now launching a murder investigation of the incident leading to Dawn Sturgess’ death. Preliminary evidence shows Sturgess was exposed to the chemical by touching it with her hands.
Charlie Rowley remains in critical condition at the same hospital.
Investigators in the U.K. are probing the mysterious illness which befell two residents in the sleepy community of Amesbury, England, on Saturday.
Officials say two persons, Dawn Sturgess, 44, from the southwest county of Salisbury, and Charlie Rowley, 45, were transported to a local hospital separately after emergency calls were placed to paramedics after both collapsed in their home. The two remain hospitalized in serious condition.
The couple were initially thought to have ingested an array of tainted drugs, possibly crack cocaine or heroin. However, investigators now fear the two were exposed to Novichok, a deadly nerve agent with origins in Russia.
“We now know that they were exposed to the nerve agent after handling a contaminated item,” a Metropolitan Police statement read.
Not coincidentally, Amesbury is eight miles north of Salisbury, the location of the March poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Metropolitan Police say Sturgess and Rowley were in Queen Elizabeth Park in Salisbury one day prior to falling ill. Queen Elizabeth Park is the site in which Skripal and his daughter were exposed to Novichok months earlier.
Both Skripal and his daughter were hospitalized for weeks, but have recovered from the incident.
Police officials have ruled out a fresh batch of the nerve agent was used and are focusing the investigation on the possibility the couple were exposed to the residual which may have been illegally disposed of following the Skripal incident.
The British government, which accused the Kremlin of complicity in the Skripal attack, is now calling on Russian to provide details of Novichok.
“We do not have a quarrel with the Russian people. Rather it is the actions of the Russian government that continue to undermine our security and that of the international community,” said U.K. interior minister, Sajid Javid. “It is completely unacceptable for our people to be deliberate or accidental targets, or for our streets, our parks, our towns to be dumping grounds for poison.”
Following the March incident involving Skripal and his daughter, Russia denied any role in the use of the agent and offered to cooperate with British investigators, but the U.K. rejected any Russian cooperation.
[BBC] [Reuters] [The Guardian] [NBC News] [Photo courtesy PA via Daily Star]