(TheBlaze/AP) — A New York City woman who went missing while vacationing alone in Istanbul was found dead on Saturday, and police detained nine people for questioning in connection with the case, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.
Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two, was last heard from on Jan. 21, the day she was due to fly home. Her disappearance attracted significant interest in Turkey, where the disappearance of tourists is rare, and Istanbul police reportedly 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 and that police later identified it as Sierra’s.
They did not say what caused her death, but the private NTV television reported that she was stabbed to death, and another reported that she had a head wound, suggesting she may have been hit with an object.
Police reached by The Associated Press refused to comment on the case.
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, Netherlands, and Munich, Germany. She had originally planned to travel with a friend, but ended up traveling alone when her friend canceled.
She was in regular contact with friends and relatives and was last in touch with her family on Jan. 21, the day she was due back in New York. She told them she would visit Galata Bridge, which spans Istanbul’s Golden Horn waterway, to take photos.
The body was found near the bridge and a major road that runs alongside the sea of Marmara. Tourists often photograph dozens of tankers there while waiting to access the Bosporus strait.
On Saturday, police stopped traffic there as forensic police inspected the area.
Anadolu suggested Sierra may have been killed at another location and that her body may have been brought to the site to be hidden there.
It was not clear if a Turkish man Sierra had exchanged emails with during her stay in Istanbul was among the nine detainees, though he was taken in for questioning and released on Friday. 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.
While break-ins and petty thievery are common in Istanbul, the vast and crowded city is considered relatively safe for foreigners compared to other major urban centers.
“It’s tragic, you can’t even go on vacation anymore and feel safe,” Sierra’s neighbor told CBS2. “I feel bad for her whole family. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
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