The New York Police Department’s top investigator indicated Friday that two Saudi sisters found dead and bound together last week near the Hudson River killed themselves, with authorities waiting on lab results from the coroner’s office for an official cause death.
Police have not completely ruled out other possibilities about how Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 22, died, but “everything that we have seen so far, there is nothing pointing to a crime,” said NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, adding that police believe they were alive when they went into the water.
The sisters had reportedly been ordered to return to Saudi Arabia after requesting asylum in the United States. After interviews with people who knew the sisters, police determined that the sisters “would rather do harm to themselves” than return to Saudi Arabia, Shea said.
The sisters were found dead and facing each other and with duct tape around their waists and ankles. They were fully clothed and showed no obvious signs of trauma when they were discovered, with police citing the lack of injuries that would be consistent with a fall to dismiss an early theory that the girls jumped from the George Washington Bridge.
A final ruling on a cause of death would be made by the city’s medical examiner. As of Friday morning the coroner’s office had not finished its investigation.
Still authorities have gathered plenty of evidence to forecast what happened based on what they have uncovered in the nine days since the bodies of the two women were recovered Oct. 24 on the banks of the Hudson in Riverside Park, on Manhattan’s west side.
Based on the investigation to date, Shea said police have learned from an eyewitness that the two sisters were spotted in a park near where their bodies were recovered praying and hours before had maxed out credit cards they were using to travel and live.
The sisters had reportedly been ordered to return home after requesting U.S. asylum and the girl's mother told detectives she had received a call from the Saudi embassy one day before the sisters’ bodies were found. The family had moved to Fairfax, Virginia, in 2015.
Police tracked the sisters’ movements before their deaths by investigating their credit card and phone records.
One senior law enforcement officials said the girls were last seen together on on August 24, “though they may have left Fairfax on a different day,” and arrived in New York around September 1.
Based on electronic records, police have a determined the girls went from Fairfax to Washington D.C., then to Philadelphia before arriving New York, an NYPD spokesman said. Police are still working to nail down what mode or modes of transportation the girls used during their journey to the city.
Police believe the girls had been in New York since September 1 until their bodies were discovered, a second senior law enforcement official said. Investigators have been coming through surveillance footage, hotel records and talking with shop owners to determine what the girls were doing in the city and glean from those anything that would provide clues as to how they ended up dead, the official said.
NYPD detectives who are in Virginia combing for clues, interviewed the girls’ mother Safa Alabasi at her home on Oct. 26, officials said.
The girls’ mother told authorities that she has not seen her daughters since she reported them missing to the Fairfax County Police Department in December of 2017, one official said.
When Rotana and Tala were located by local police in December, “they were relocated to a different home away their mother, and. the location of the home was not disclosed to the family, the official said.
It is not clear if police have interviewed the guardians of the second home.
The mother told detectives that she had been trying to get in contact with her daughters but was unable to find them, and that local police would not tell her where they were, the official said.
She told detectives she received a telephone call from the Saudi embassy and was “told her that her family had to leave the United States because the daughters had filed for immigration asylum,” the official said.
Alabasi told detectives she’d received a call from the embassy a day before her daughters disappeared urging the family to leave the U.S. because the women had applied for political asylum.
She added that the family had no relatives in or around New York and had no knowledge of any friends in the area or if the two girls had any social media accounts.