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Detectives suspect suicide in Saudi sisters’ deaths
The sisters, Rotana Farea, 23, and Tala Farea, 16, were Saudi citizens. The kingdom’s royal consulate general appointed the lawyer for the investigation and contacted their family.
They were dressed similarly in black leggings and fur-trimmed jackets, with their feet and ankles bound together by duct tape when they were found in the river on Oct. 24.
Tala attended a public school in Fairfax County briefly and Rotana was an engineering student at George Mason University until last spring.
“The news of her death is tragic,” a spokesman for the university said. “University officials are cooperating with police and will assist in any way we can.”
Their mother, who has not been identified, reported them missing from Virginia to police on Dec. 1.
When they were located the next day in Virginia, the sisters asked for protection, saying family members had physically abused them and done “some other things,” and they were placed in a “shelter-like facility,” said Dermot Shea, chief of detectives, New York Police Department.
They stayed in the shelter without family contact for eight months and disappeared on Aug. 23 or 24, Chief Shea said.
Detectives tracked down their whereabouts using credit card data and found they traveled from Fairfax to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia before arriving in Manhattan two months ago.
While in New York City, they stayed in Midtown hotels, ordered room service twice a day and maxed out their credit cards shopping.
Investigators are looking into reports that the sisters emigrated with their family from Saudi Arabia to Virginia in 2015, had been physically abused by family and had claimed asylum in the United States.
Shea said investigation found the sisters had expressed they’d rather die than return to Saudi Arabia, but investigators have not ruled out other circumstances or determined official cause of death.
He added that police have obtained surveillance footage that shows the sisters alone and “in good health” about five to six days before their bodies were discovered on the banks of the Hudson River.
Investigators have yet to discover any evidence of foul play, Shea told reporters at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Earlier in the week, the New York Times reported that the Saudi Embassy in Washington called their mother to inform her that they had applied for asylum in the United States.
Police said previously that their bodies showed no signs of trauma.
Water was found in their lungs, a law enforcement official told CNN, which means they were likely alive when they entered the water.