Saudi Sisters Bound With Duct Tape in New York River: Authorities Reveal Cause of Death

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK—Medical officials have determined that two immigrant sisters from Saudi Arabia, Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea, 23 whose bodies mysteriously washed up on the New York City waterfront in October, killed themselves.

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said in a statement on Tuesday, Jan. 22 the cause of death was drowning. Tala Farea and Rotana Farea “bound themselves together before descending into the Hudson River.” Sampson said, according to AP.

Their fully clothed bodies were discovered on Oct. 24 near the river, two months after they were last seen in Fairfax, Virginia, where they had been living in a shelter amid allegations that they were abused at home.

The medical examiner’s announcement confirms statements by police last year that the cause of the women’s’ deaths was most probably suicide. In a Nov. 2 press conference, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said that his detectives have developed sources who told them how much the girls didn’t want to return to Saudi Arabia.

It was previously reported that the girls left their family home in Virginia after suffering abuse. Another report indicated that the girls applied for asylum earlier this year. At the time of the November press conference, those reports had not yet been corroborated by the NYPD, Shea said.

sketches of women found
Two women were found next to the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of the Manhattan borough of New York City on Oct. 24. (NYPD)

No Evidence of a Crime

A jogger, who frequently exercises at Riverside Park said he saw them praying at a playground near the river, hours before their bodies were found.

He said that the girls were sitting in a playground at the park, sitting about 30 feet apart but appearing to be together. “They were sitting with their heads in their hands, their heads lowered, and they were making noises loudly that he described as praying.”

The playground is a very short distance from the Hudson River. Police said the duct tape found around girls was not tight and binding, but only “keeping them together,” indicating they may have placed the duct tape themselves before they entered the water.

The NYPD believed the two sisters may have entered the water alive, adding that there was no credible information indicating any type of crime.

saudi sisters found dead in new york
Tala Farea, 16, left, was found dead with her sister Rotana Farea, 22, in New York City on Oct. 24, 2018. The undated photos were released by the NYPD on Oct. 31, 2018. (NYPD)

Traveling To New York

Police said the sisters had been in Manhattan since Sept. 1, staying at expensive hotels and ordering in pairs of meals until a credit card they were using maxed out.

The deaths shined a light on the secretive and risky journeys Saudi women take to flee their homes in the kingdom and abroad. Under the kingdom’s guardianship system, women must have the approval of a male relative—such as a father, husband, brother, or even a son—to marry, obtain a passport or travel.

New York City Police Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said people who knew the Farea sisters in Virginia told investigators that they made statements within the last year indicating “that they would rather inflict harm on themselves—commit suicide—than return to Saudi Arabia.”

Video footage showed the girls in good health until about a week before their bodies were found.

The Epoch Times Reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.