N.Y. Police Seeking Answers In Deaths Of Saudi Sisters Found In River Police identified them as Rotana and Tala Farea, who had moved to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. Investigators want to know how and why they wound up bound together in the water.
NPR logo N.Y. Police Seeking Answers In Deaths Of Saudi Sisters Found In River

N.Y. Police Seeking Answers In Deaths Of Saudi Sisters Found In River

Sisters Rotana (left) and Tala Farea, whose bodies, bound together with tape and facing each other, were discovered on the banks of New York City's Hudson River waterfront on Oct. 24. They were Saudi citizens. New York City Police Department via AP hide caption

toggle caption
New York City Police Department via AP

Sisters Rotana (left) and Tala Farea, whose bodies, bound together with tape and facing each other, were discovered on the banks of New York City's Hudson River waterfront on Oct. 24. They were Saudi citizens.

New York City Police Department via AP

New York City police are still puzzling over what happened a week ago when two bodies facing each other in death and bound together by duct tape were found in the waters of the Hudson River.

Police have identified the bodies as sisters Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, who had emigrated with their family from Saudi Arabia to Fairfax, Va., a few years ago.

"We are out to get justice for those two girls and to find out what happened," New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said at a briefing this week.

The Fareas, a family of six, moved to the United States seeking a better education for the sisters and two brothers, ages 18 and 11, the Arab News reports.

Initially, police had sought help from the public to identify the bodies, releasing black-and-white sketches. Now police know their names and are looking into the meaning of an apparently troubling trail the sisters left behind.

The New York Times reports the sisters had a history of disappearing, beginning last year when their mother reported them missing. Police located the sisters, who were then placed in a shelter after asking for protection.

Then, in August, their mother once again reported Tala Farea missing. But the Arab News reports the search was called off when she was found to be living with her older sister, who was studying computer and information technology in New York City.

Police had considered the theory that the sisters had taken their own lives, binding themselves together before leaping off a bridge. But the Times reports that investigators said the bodies did not show the expected signs of trauma resulting from such a fall.

Authorities have not ruled out homicide.

"There are still some gaps that we would like to fill in and get a real clear picture of what happened in the last two months," Shea said Wednesday.

New York police sent a detective to Virginia to learn more about the sisters' lives there.

"Those interviews are really unraveling, in some way, a piece of the puzzle of behind the scenes," Shea said Wednesday. "There is still work to do."

Citing police, The Associated Press reports that the day before the sisters' bodies were found in the river, their mother received a call from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., ordering the family to leave the U.S. because her daughters had applied for political asylum.

But an unnamed embassy official tells the Arab News that no such call was made.

"Any/All communication with the mother had nothing to do with a supposed asylum claim," the official told the outlet.

The Saudi Consulate released a statement, underlining that while much remains unknown, it has "appointed an attorney to follow the case closely."

The mysterious deaths come in the wake of the high-profile death of another Saudi citizen — one that has led to an international uproar. Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist who had criticized the Saudi regime, was killed after entering Istanbul's Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2.

Turkey's top prosecutor says a Saudi hit-team committed a premeditated murder, strangling Khashoggi and dismembering his body shortly after he entered the building. Saudi officials first denied knowing what happened, then, following a backlash, said Khashoggi died in an altercation.

His remains have not been found.