Missing New York woman Sarai Sierra found dead
Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, was last heard from on Jan. 21, the day she was to fly home. Her disappearance attracted a lot of interest in Turkey, where the disappearance of tourists is rare, and Istanbul police had set up a special unit to find her. Authorities reportedly have nine people in custody in relation to her death. It is not clear if all nine are suspects. The Anadolu Agency reports residents discovered the body near ancient city walls in a low-income district.
The body was found not far from the bridge and near a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara. Here tourists often photograph dozens of tankers waiting to access the Bosporus strait. A woman came forward and told police she had seen a white car parked near the city walls as she was driving there the night of Jan. 29, Anadolu reported. She said a man was trying to remove “something” from the car.
“At that moment, I noticed a woman’s hand,” Anadolu quoted the woman as telling reporters after talking with police. The agency said she declined to give her name.
Police said Friday they had detained a man who exchanged online messages with her. Police would not release his name, but Turkish news reports identified him as “Taylan.”
It is not clear if Taylan is among the nine suspects currently being held.
Police say he had arranged to meet Sierra by the Galata Tower on Jan. 20, but he reportedly told authorities they never did meet, despite planning to do so.
“We did not meet that day, but we had met before,” a Turkish newspaper quoted the man as saying during his interrogation. He reported said he first met Sierra online four months ago.
Sierra’s husband, Steven, and her brother, David Jimenez, traveled to Istanbul to help search for her. Sierra’s mother, Betzaida Jimenez, said Saturday that she couldn’t talk about the case when reached in New York.
Shortly after Sierra was reported missing, Turkey set up a special police unit which scanned hours of security camera footage in downtown Istanbul in search of clues. A Turkish missing persons association joined the search, handing out flyers with photos of Sierra and urging anyone with information to call police.
While break-ins and petty thievery are common in Istanbul, the vast and crowded city is considered relatively safe compared to other major urban centers. Sierra’s death was unlikely to have a significant impact on tourism, a large component of the Turkish economy.
In 2008, an Italian artist, Pippa Bacca, was raped and killed while hitchhiking to Israel wearing a wedding dress to plead for peace. Her naked body was found in a forest in northwest Turkey. A Turkish man was sentenced to life in prison for the attack.