An Australian scientist who was allegedly murdered by her nephew in Argentina “weirdly” stopped replying to daily messages from her friends about two weeks before she was found dead.
The body of 54-year-old University of New England microbiology professor Lily Pereg, who was born in Israel, and that of her 63-year-old Israeli sister Pirhya Sarussi were discovered on Saturday local time near the city of Mendoza.
The bodies were buried on a lot beside the house of Ms Sarussi’s son Gilad Pereg, 36, according to Argentina prosecutor Claudia Rios.
Pereg was arrested on Friday and formally charged a day later with the aggravated homicide of his mother and the simple homicide of his aunt following the discovery.
‘We are shocked’
“We the family, are shocked. Gilad Pereg, Pyrchia Sarusi’s son, standing accused of murdering his Monther and Aunt (sic),” the women’s family said in a statement on GoFundMe.
“We at the family are at owe and humbled by the outpouring of support and love, worldwide. Your love carried us and will help us recover from a huge tragedy. There will never be an explanation.”
The family had been using the website to try to raise funds to help find the sisters and had so far collected more than $7500. The funds will now be donated to charity.
The women vanished about January 11 after travelling to Mendoza to visit Gilad, who had been living in Argentina for more than 10 years.
The brother of Lily Pereg and Pirhya Sarussi last week spoke of the family’s desperation to find the pair.
Speaking to local media on 22 January, he appealed for citizens in Mendoza to come forward with any information that might assist the case.
“We are not going to rest until we find them, we need the help of the people of Mendoza…We, or the police, will reward anyone who can give us information.”
Friends reveal last message sent
Childhood friend Eti Krief Haimi said she was in daily contact with Ms Pereg via a WhatsApp group chat called “friendship forever”.
“The last message you sent to us on 11/1/19 hour 23.06 was: “wishing you a peaceful Shabbat.. Shabbat shalom dear girls..” with full of hearts and flowers,” she posted on Facebook.
“You stopped responding to us, it was a little weird, but we thought you were on a flight somewhere.”
She paid tribute to Ms Pereg’s “big smile” and love of life and travel.
“You left a huge hole with us. We didn’t dream in the worst deal we’d have to break up with you so fast.”
Autopsy results showed at least one of the women was shot. Local media are reporting the victim had suffered three gunshot wounds while the other showed signs of having been dragged.
Gilad Pereg, who reportedly was the Argentine chairman of five companies set up by his mother, has now be transferred to a local prison.
DFAT offers consular assistance
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday confirmed it was providing consular assistance to the family of an Australian woman who died in Argentina.
“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment,” a spokeswoman said.
The UNE website describes Dr Pereg as a microbial ecologist with 25 years experience as a researcher in plant and social microbiology.
She obtained a PhD from the University of Sydney in 1998 and later worked for the Institute for Genetics at the University of Cologne in Germany before joining UNE in 2001.
Colleagues ‘saddened’ over death
The University of New England released a statement, saying the community was “shocked and saddened to hear the news overnight that our dear colleague and friend, Professor Lily Pereg and her sister, Pyrhia Sarussi were found dead”.
“We wish to thank all those who have expressed their concern and support for Professor Pereg over the past two week and express our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Professor Pereg and her sister,” the statement said.
University of New England graduate and colleague Rebecca Campbell said she would always remember Professor Pereg’s kindness.
Colleagues with the European Geosciences Union (EGU) said the death leaves “a large void in the science community”.