Missing NYC woman found dead in Turkey

Sunday, February 3, 2013
Police officers search for missing New York City woman Sarai Sierra late Saturday near the remnants of some ancient city walls in low-income district of Sarayburnu in Istanbul, Turkey. (Associated Press)

ISTANBUL -- A New York City woman who went missing while vacationing alone in Istanbul was found dead Saturday. Police detained nine people for questioning, Turkey's state-run news agency said.

Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, was last heard from Jan. 21, the day she was to fly home. Her disappearance attracted plenty of interest in Turkey, where the disappearance of tourists is rare. Istanbul police had set up a special unit to find her.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the body of a woman was discovered Saturday evening near the remnants of ancient city walls. Police later identified it as Sierra's.

The agency did not say what caused her death. But the private NTV television reported she had been stabbed, while a private news agency, Dogan, said she had a head wound, suggesting she might have been hit with an object.

Sierra, whose children are 9 and 11, had left for Istanbul on Jan. 7 to explore her photography hobby and made a side trip to Amsterdam and Munich. She had planned to travel with a friend but ended up traveling alone when her friend canceled.

She had been in regular contact with friends and relatives. On her last day, she told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul's Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.

Her body was found near the bridge and a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara, where tourists often photograph dozens of tankers awaiting access to the Bosporus strait.

On Saturday, police stopped traffic there as forensic police inspected the area.

Anadolu suggested Sierra might have been killed at another location and that her body might have been brought to the site to be hidden.

At least nine people were detained for questioning in Istanbul, and a police official told journalists that two of them were women.

It was not clear if a Turkish man Sierra had exchanged emails with during her stay in Istanbul was among the detainees. He was held for questioning Friday then released. Turkish news reports said Sierra had arranged to meet the man on Galata Bridge, but he reportedly told police the meeting never took place.

Sierra's husband, Steven, and her brother, David Jimenez, traveled to Istanbul to help search for her. Sierra's mother, Betzaida Jimenez, on Saturday said 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 that scanned hours of security camera footage in downtown Istanbul in search of clues. A Turkish missing persons association joined the search, handing out fliers 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 urban centers.

Sierra's death was unlikely to have a significant impact on tourism, a large component of the Turkish economy.

In 2008, 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.  

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